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Over-serving cause of senior meal program shortfall, finds county auditor

Agency on Aging steps in to monitor program contractor

POSTED September 25, 2012 6:46 p.m.

Last year, a program meant to feed Stanislaus County’s hungry senior citizens ran out of funding in April – months ahead of the July end of the fiscal year – leaving the program reliant on donations to finish the year.

The primary cause of that gaffe: over-serving meals, according to an independent auditor’s report delivered to Stanislaus County Supervisors Tuesday.

 “Our intention this morning is to reflect on what went wrong last fiscal year, and then move forward,” said assistant county CEO Patty Hill-Thomas.

An independent audit, conducted by Brown Armstrong, the county’s outside auditors, found that the senior meal contractor, Howard Training Center, had the necessary budgetary and monitoring controls in place.

But the center was recommended to “improve its fiscal analysis and monitoring to provide better and closer control over its cash flows and financial resources,” and to “improve its communication with the county” to use resources to help monitor the center’s fiscal health and flow of meals. Additionally, rapid turnover of management at Howard Training Center was found to have contributed to the error.

“We have to issue an apology to the seniors of our community,” said Supervisor Bill O’Brien, “the most vulnerable people in our community who relied on us for food.

“Our contractor messed up, but more importantly, your county government messed up.”

Now, meal counts will be strictly controlled. The Area Agency on Aging will control the meal delivery amount per month, reimbursing Howard Training Center only for the meals served.

Congregate meals, served at 14 sites across the county including one in Turlock, will continue to be offered at least three times per week. The average number of monthly meals will not exceed 4,000 meals per month, based on available funding.

Home-delivered meals, offered only to high-priority, homebound seniors, will serve a further 500 seniors a total of 12,411 meals per month.

Those numbers are lower than HTC was providing, prior to running out of funding last year. At that time, the center offered 5,550 congregate meals per month, and 14,000 home-delivered meals per month.

Any donations will allow the center to provide additional meals.

The center may be providing fewer meals over the next year, but providing a sustainable level of service should allow senior meals to continue year-round.

 “You learn from your mistakes, and you go on,” said County Supervisor Jim DeMartini.

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