- Associated Press - Saturday, March 8, 2014

THIBODAUX, La. (AP) - An internal review of Lafourche Parish’s Community Action Office shows a gross misuse of grant money since 2011.

The Daily Comet reports (https://bit.ly/1kuvsCx) the office oversees Community Service Block Grant money that’s intended to provide one-time help for residents who have suffered a setback and are seeking emergency help to get back on their feet. Clients apply through Community Action case managers who submit recommendations to the office’s director for approval.

In January, Tommy Lasseigne, the parish legislative internal auditor, and his clerk, Fredia Ruffin, presented a report on the use of grant money from Oct. 1, 2012, to Dec. 31, 2013, that showed 31 instances where contract guidelines weren’t followed.

“It seems to have been a problem in that department beginning in 2011 when there were overpayments made, deposits made to people when they requested assistance,” Parish President Charlotte Randolph said.

Joni Tuck, Community Action director from July 2012 to January, could not be reached for comment. Her position has yet to be filled.

The parish is allowed to pay up to $750 for rent and $450 for emergency hotel stays and utility assistance, but the review showed the one-time assistance was made to multiple repeat clients. Several clients on the list were given money without having to provide required documentation of residency and their situation.

In one April 2013 case, a client asked for help with rent. She was three months behind after her husband died and requested $2,100, which was granted. However, according to Lasseigne and Ruffin’s report, the client did not bring proof of identification yet the department still granted $1,350 in excess of the allowable $750.

In a 2012 case, a client requested assistance on a $2,888 mortgage but provided outdated income statements and expired identification, the report says. Still, the department paid the entire amount, an excess of $2,138. Most of the mortgage had previously been paid and the client used the money for a personal loan.

Most payments were in excess of $200 or more, the report says.

Parish Administrator Archie Chaisson said the parish is still reviewing the expenditures and set up a committee of “community leaders from across the parish … trying to revamp the system.”

The parish is also working to set up a work connection office next door to the Community Action office.

“This way after we help people we’ll automatically connect them to the work connection folks so we can help them get back on their feet and not just survive that particular situation,” Chaisson said.

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Information from: Daily Comet, https://www.dailycomet.com

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