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Wednesday, February 16, 2005
Lawmakers called for an audit of the Department of Human Services' use of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funds after it was learned last month that $1 million was being used for an anti-drug and alcohol abuse campaign being run out of Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona's office.
Meanwhile, the House Human Services Committee yesterday advanced a bill that would have the Legislature oversee and evaluate any spending the federal dollars, known as TANF funds.
Committee Chairman Rep. Alex Sonson (D, Pearl City-Waipahu) said that while he believes the administration is within the flexible TANF spending guidelines, "it's better public policy to allow the Legislature to have closer oversight of these funds so we can have more public input."
Human Services Director Lillian Koller said she agreed the Legislature should take a more active role and noted that the federal block grant dollars have been coming in since 1997 and the Legislature's only action has been to appropriate the funds to the Human Services Department.
She questioned why some lawmakers now want more oversight.
"Some (Democrats) seem angry for some reason that we've maybe embarrassed them by pointing out that this money has been there for eight years and they have not taken an active role," Koller said.
The request for a state audit comes while a federal audit into the spending of TANF funds is pending. That request was made by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Administration for Children and Families.
Federal guidelines say TANF funds must go to help poor families, promote self-sufficiency through job training and marriage, prevent unwanted pregnancies and encourage the formation of two-parent families.
The Lingle administration has so far spent about half of the $1 million set aside for the anti-drug public service campaign that features local celebrities, including Olympic decathlete Bryan Clay, surfer Bethany Hamilton and singer Jasmine Trias.
Rep. Brian Schatz, who introduced a resolution calling for the state audit, said his concern wasn't that the money was being spent illegally, but whether the funds could be put to better use.
"What the public wants to know is how in the world somebody thought this would be a good use of money designated for needy families," said Schatz (D, Tantalus-Makiki). "It perfectly embodies the priorities of this administration that they would rather describe a problem or promote something on television than actually go about providing a solution."
He said lawmakers want to know exactly what criteria the administration has for spending the funds.
Koller said that in determining how to use the TANF funds, the administration looked at areas where Republicans and Democrats had agreement.
She noted that in both the Democrats' wide-ranging drug-control measure passed last year and Aiona's drug control strategy, money is set aside for public service media campaigns.
"The policies that we have spent this money on have been consistent with policy declarations and the desires expressed by the Legislature over the years," Koller said.