MORGANTOWN – In Part 4 of our review of alleged misspending by the Dunbar School Foundation Stop program – offering COVID vaccine and testing services to the Black community in a four-county area – we begin looking at some of the spending called into question and under review by the Department of Health and Human Resources.
Stop rents two GMC Yukons, budgeted at $2,000 per month apiece for a total $48,000 per year. Questions raised, which we submitted to DHHR concerned: the choice of vehicle, would a more utilitarian van suffice in place of a luxury SUV; the price, at the time we contacted DHHR some inquiries showed that a Yukon could be leased for $699 per month to $749 per month, instead of being rented; and how Stop distinguishes personal use from program use (we noted to DHHR that CEO Romelia Hodges keeps one of the Yukons parked in front of her home); and that the vehicles bear no signage identifying them as program vehicles.
DHHR answered in two parts. In the first, it listed guidelines covering costs of items used for a program.
The guidelines say that except where otherwise authorized by statute, costs must meet the following general criteria in order to be allowable under federal awards: Be necessary and reasonable for the performance of the federal award and be allocable thereto; conform to any limitations or exclusions set forth in federal cost principles or in the federal award as to types or amount of cost items; be consistent with policies and procedures that apply uniformly to both federally financed and other activities of the non-federal entity; be accorded consistent treatment; be determined in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles, except, for state and local governments and Indian tribes only, as otherwise provided for in federal regulations.; not be included as a cost or used to meet cost sharing or matching requirements of any other federally financed program in either the current or a prior period; be incurred during the approved budget period; be adequately documented.
The second part was an answer repeated for many of our questions: “As part of fieldwork, DHHR is attempting to review all the expenditures charged to the grant and the supporting documentation related thereto. Once the review is complete, DHHR will discuss internally and make a final determination on whether to allow or disallow the rental costs.”
During the period of Stop’s first grant for April 1, 2021, through June 30,2022, it paid a total $35,307.95, to Enterprise Rent-A-Car in Fairmont, $12,692.05 less than the budgeted $48,000.
On June 1, 2022, Stop’s ledger shows a $50,000 “pledge” from Enterprise. We raised the issue of what appeared to be a kickback to Hodges, who said the amount reflected a discount from Enterprise intended to span about two years.
Regarding the SUVs themselves, Hodges said they are comparable to vehicles used in other programs, including at WVU – she was a program manager within the West Virginia Clinical and Translational Science Institute from February through June 2021 and projecct manager at WVU Research Corp. from June until September 2021, WVU said – where a Chevy Suburban was used.
Stop, she said, would send teams out to pop-up events carrying up to five people – Yukons hold eight – plus a tent, a cart container with nursing supplies, coolers to keep the vaccines cold and other equipment. The vehicles were approved through the grant.
Salaries and bonuses
DSF President Houston Richardson has questioned the salaries of Hodges and former Chief Operating Officer Tiffany Samuels.
Hodges’ salary was initially $120,000, later raised to $130,000. Samuels’ salary was $120,000, with the grant-funded portion being $60,000 based on being being 50% time on the grant. Their salaries made up about 15% of the intitial grant.
In December 2021, 10 Stop employees each received $200 bonuses. Hodges and Samuels awarded themselves $5,000 bonuses.
DHHR said it reviews the salaries budgeted and charged directly to all grant awards to make sure they are reasonable. Compensation for employees engaged in work on federal awards is considered reasonable to the extent that it is consistent with that paid for similar work in other activities of the subrecipient.
Where employees jobs aren’t found in the other activities of the subrecipient, compensation is considered reasonable to the extent that it is comparable to that paid for similar work in the labor market in which the subrecipient competes for the kind of employees involved.
Salaries charged to grant awards must be based on records that accurately reflected work performed, be supported by internal controls that provide reasonable assurance that charges are accurate, allowable and properly allocated, and reasonably reflect the total activity for which the employee is compensated.
We also asked watchdog media organization ProPublica about the salaries. They couldn’t offer any specific insights, and just said executive compensation varies a huge amount by industry, organization size and what an organization’s mission/program services are.
DHHR approved both the salaries and the bonuses.
Stop’s ledgers record fuel purchases but DHHR did not supply mileage reports.
Among the fuel purchases, there are seven out-of-state fuel purchases, including North Carolina, Maryland, Ohio and Pennsylvania, totaling $297.16. We asked DHHR how it verifies travel is business and not personal.
DHHR referred us to the spending guidelines above and added, “DHHR is attempting to review all the expenditures charged to the grant and the supporting documentation related thereto. Once the review is complete, DHHR will discuss internally and make a final determination on whether to allow or disallow the costs for travel.”
Hodges said those travel expenses were incurred by Samuels, who is no longer with the program, and Hodges could not speak to them.
Given the lack of mileage reports, we asked DHHR how it verifies legitimate fuel purchases and why there are no records of mileage traveled by officers and staff.
DHHR again referred us to the spending guideline and again said, “DHHR is attempting to review all the expenditures charged to the grant and the supporting documentation related thereto. Once the review is complete, DHHR will discuss internally and make a final determination on whether to allow or disallow these fuel purchases.”
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