At a time when the city is trying to get its arms around homelessness, it’s disturbing that one of its largest contractors for homeless services is accused of ripping off taxpayers.
An Albuquerque Office of Inspector General report released last week alleges HopeWorks, which has a whopping $9.6 million in city contracts, “defrauded” the city of $155,586.25 by double-billing the city and Medicaid. The OIG report, which is independent of the mayor and the City Council, also states HopeWorks billed Medicaid an additional $15,653.58 for services it couldn’t back up in its general ledger.
The OIG’s recommendations include that HopeWorks immediately repay the city the full $155,586.25 in order to remain compliant with its contract provisions and federal requirements. But HopeWorks had not repaid the city anything as of Jan. 12.
The nonprofit with a day shelter, dining hall and behavioral health services at 1201 3rd St. NW asserts the OIG’s findings were “based on a misunderstanding” of how its Assisted Outpatient Treatment program expenses are billed. HopeWorks also contends the city initiated the audit and the OIG investigation in retaliation for a June 10 guest column in the Journal critical of the city’s purchase of the old Lovelace Hospital on Gibson SE for a shelter.
However, the city terminated a three-year Assisted Outpatient Treatment contract with HopeWorks on June 1, so the retaliation argument is days late and the dollars still have to add up.
The OIG report states HopeWorks’ lack of internal controls makes the city susceptible to fraud, waste and abuse because of inaccurate contract revenue and expenditure reporting. Red flags had started to pop up after HopeWorks contacted the city about a growing deficit in its operation of the Assisted Outpatient Treatment program. HopeWorks wanted a more restrictive cap on the number of cases assigned to each case manager, so the city asked for fiscal documentation. HopeWorks could not provide it; enter the independent audit, which began in September, long before the guest column. It’s called due diligence and it’s what we expect of those who dole out millions of tax dollars.
Founded in 1985, HopeWorks has been doing good work in the community for decades, becoming one of the largest nonprofit homeless service providers in the state, with plans for a $9 million rebuild of its campus. The city contracted with HopeWorks because of its long history working with people experiencing homelessness, addictions and mental illness.
Lost in the finger-pointing are an estimated 1,560 homeless people in Albuquerque this winter, according to a 2021 Point-in-Time survey that officials acknowledge was an undercount, and the 11,000-plus individuals and families who will experience homelessness in Albuquerque in any given year, according to the National Coalition to End Homelessness.
HopeWorks owes it to its current and prospective clients, as well as city taxpayers, to get its paperwork in order and justify specific program spending. Albuquerque needs solutions to the homeless crisis, not missing six-figure expenditures.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.