State Is Firm On HOPE's Status
Published 12:30 pm Thursday, July 4, 2013
FARMVILLE – The Virginia Department of Social Services isn't waiting for HOPE Community Services Inc.'s board of directors to resolve its differences on whether or not to voluntarily rescind its community action agency status.
The state is adamant and moving ahead.
The department, Fran Inge told The Herald on Tuesday afternoon, “is moving forward under Sections 676(c) of the CSBG (Community Services Block Grant) ACT to recommend that the Governor rescind HOPE Community Services designation as a community action agency based on failure to comply with the State Plan, Standard or Requirement.”
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Nor can Inge foresee any circumstances in which HOPE can successfully appeal and keep its community action agency status and regain state community services block grant funding.
“No,” replied the director of the department's Office of Volunteer and Community Services, a clear, unambiguous, one-word answer to the question.
The news will not take HOPE's board by surprise. The state recommended in firm and straightforward language in a June 14 letter from Inge what the board should do and what was going to happen if the designation was not voluntarily rescinded. A second letter from the state reiterated the position.
The executive committee of HOPE's board of directors did, in fact, vote its recommendation that the full board approve voluntarily rescinding the community action agency designation and HOPE's executive director, Dr. Kitty Smith, agrees that doing so would be best for the organization and, particularly, the people it serves in its six-county coverage area.
But the board of directors is split on the issue, twice meeting-once on June 27 and again on July 1-without voting to voluntarily relinquish the designation.
Some board members, and Dr. Smith, who told The Herald she is resigning, believe rescinding the designation voluntarily, as the state has promised, will allow plans to be put in place to provide services to the six-county area through other central Virginia community action agencies and non-profits.
Other board members disagree and believe the designation should and can be kept, an appeal successful, without adding any additional delay to the reinstitution of services.
The state's Department of Social Services has been clear in its official communications to the agency and is now following through on what HOPE was told would happen if there was no vote to voluntarily rescind the community action agency status.
Inge repeated and confirmed those consequences, and that they were underway, to The Herald on Tuesday.
Asked about HOPE's status with the Virginia Department of Social Services, Inge replied, “On June 14th VDSS suspended all CSBG funds to HOPE Community Services. We recommended that the HOPE Board of Directors voluntarily rescind their designation as a community action agency. On June 21st a second letter was sent informing the HOPE Board that the Virginia Department of Social Services was formally beginning the process to recommend that the Governor rescind HOPE Community Services' designation as a community action agency.”
That process has begun.
Inge explained the Department of Social Services' rationale for its action in that June 14 letter, writing, “looking at multiple breaches of your contract, we are suspending all funds. Major issues which led to this decision include: an unacceptable A-133 audit, no proof of current liability insurance, allegations of fiscal mismanagement, Board minutes are not current, as required. Of most concern is our lack of confidence that services are being delivered to the residents of your community.”
What is the department's position on the apparent split on the HOPE board and failure of the board to voluntarily rescind community action status?
“A vote of the full Board of Directors is needed to voluntarily rescind HOPE's designation as a community action agency. VDSS focus remains on the CSBG funds and HOPE's designation as a community action agency,” Inge replied via email to questions from The Herald emailed to her through the department's public affairs office, per state media inquiry protocols.
HOPE's most recent board meeting on Monday of this week was begun at the HOPE office but it dissolved, reportedly rather acrimoniously, without formally adjourning and some members, not all, convened at another location.
Asked if the department was in conversation with or working with a separate or subset group of board members on this issue, Inge replied, “No. Full Board action is needed to voluntarily rescind HOPE's designation as a community action agency.”
Regarding the state's confidence that other community action agencies-in Richmond, Petersburg, South Boston or Charlottesville-would be willing to help area residents by providing the services formerly offered by HOPE, Inge said, “At this point VDSS is only focusing on HOPE's de-designation as a community action agency.”
Would the state provide grant funding to another action agency to pay for services for residents formally served by HOPE?
“VDSS will not begin the process of identifying a new service agency until either a) the Board of Directors of HOPE voluntarily votes to rescind its designation; or (b) the formal process has been completed in conjunction with all federal and state laws.”
If HOPE's board of directors does voluntarily rescind community action status how long would it take to set up alternative service provision for area residents?
The department, Inge answered, “will follow the process established in Virginia Code 2.2-5407 and Virginia Administrative Code 22VAC40-901-60; however, as stated previously, we cannot begin the process until either a) the Board of Directors of HOPE voluntarily votes to rescind its designation; or (b) the formal process has been completed in conjunction with all federal and state laws that rescinds the designation for cause.”
Inge was asked what her best advice is to the HOPE board of directors and she told The Herald, “do what is needed to ensure the citizens of Farmville, Amelia, Buckingham, Cumberland, Lunenburg, Nottoway and Prince Edward receive the services that CSBG funds provide.”
In her June 14 letter to HOPE, Inge said “while we remain confident that the HOPE Board of Directors will make the right decision and voluntarily rescind their designation as a community action agency, please know that within the next week an official letter will come from the Virginia Department of Social Services that will formally start the process to rescind HOPE's designation as a community action agency for cause. This will be a lengthy process delaying the provision of desperately needed services to the citizens of your service area. Should the Board vote to voluntarily…rescind their designation, the formal process will stop and we can immediately begin addressing service delivery.”
That HOPE board of directors vote has not taken place.