A state program aimed at helping welfare recipients find work suffers from declining job successes and is spending too much for transportation, Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera said in a report issued Monday.
The report is focused on a program called Strategies to Empower People which is designed to aid needy families who collect monthly payments under the Family Independence Temporary Assistant Program.
About 7,300 families received an average of about $189 per month under FITAP.
The STEP program is meant to provide work opportunities for eligible families, including job training, employment and supportive services.
The effort is under the state Department of Children and Family Services.
The agency’s goal is for 40 percent of STEP participants to get jobs.
But Purpera’s audit said that, in the financial year that ended on June 30, 2011, only 25 percent who took part in the program left with a job, down from 61 percent in 2008.
It also marked the third consecutive year that the rate of job placements dropped, the report says.
Purpera said DCFS should evaluate reasons for the trend.
DCFS disputed the finding.
In a written response, agency officials said they are aware of the trend and checking on causes through monthly meetings and with the assistance of consultants.
Much of the problem stems from “the glaring economic downturn and reflective impact of employment rates,” wrote Richard Howze, undersecretary for DCFS.
In another areas, Purpera said that DCFS could have saved the state up to $5 million in the past three years if transportation costs for STEP were comparable to other state agencies and other states.
During a yearlong period that ended in mid-2011, the report says, transportation costs accounted for 61 percent of STEP’s $8.9 million budget.
The report said rates paid by DCFS are 62 percent higher than what providers charge the public for transportation.
The audit also said the agency had a monthly reimbursement rate of up to $500 for participants who used their own vehicles while the average monthly rate in six other states surveyed is $180.
Howze disputed both points.
He wrote that STEP transportation costs vary with other state agencies because of different requirements.
Howze also said participants are only reimbursed to use their own car or truck if cheaper ways are unavailable.
He said the maximum monthly rate now is $300, not $500, and the average is $141.
Purpera’s report covered a period from July 2008 until February 2011.