Lawmakers considering legislation after Denver7 investigation into benefits for disabled residents

DENVER - Colorado lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, prompted by a Denver7 investigation, say they are considering legislation into the distribution of tax dollars for adults with disabilities.

Contracts examined by Denver7 Investigator John Ferrugia found a provider agency called Support, Inc. was, in some cases, turning over less than half of the total government Medicaid and Social Security benefits due to disabled adults. Support, Inc. receives state and federal funding for each disabled client, then hires caregivers to take disabled people into their homes.

The company said it negotiates with each caregiver and keep a portion of the benefits for administrative costs and to provide additional care. But several caregivers argued the company is keeping a disproportionate amount of money meant for the disabled.

“These clients are their cash cows,” said caregiver Earlene Anderson.

After the Denver7 investigation revealed there is no legal limit to how many taxpayer dollars such provider agencies can keep off the top, two Colorado lawmakers said they would consider legislation to increase oversight over those agencies.

“It really feels like someone taking advantage of somebody who has absolutely no means of defending themselves,” said Dr. Irene Aguilar, a Democratic state senator who sits on the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. “I can’t even imagine that someone would feel empowered to take money from someone who is so vulnerable.”

The Denver7 Investigators found another source of taxpayer funding that is never making it to the disabled clients: Section 8 housing vouchers.

Denver7 discovered 26 caregivers are receiving hundreds of dollars in Section 8 HUD funding, meant to help cover the cost of rent.

“Support, Inc. is a contract agency … [which] receives Section 8 vouchers to distribute to their network of host home providers that serve the disabled,” said Denise Stepto, director of communications for the state department of local affairs.

Those checks are paid directly to landlords, and Denver7’s investigation found Support, Inc. then deducts the full amount of the vouchers from caregivers’ checks.

“Where is the money going? That would be my question,” asked state Rep. Lois Landgraf, a Republican who sits on the House Health and Human Services Committee. “On the surface it seems criminal, really.”

State officials said there is nothing illegal about what the Denver7 investigators uncovered. The state said it does not have the authority to control or even monitor how provider agencies distribute tax dollars, as long as people with disabilities are receiving the services required. That’s why both legislators said it may be necessary to strengthen the law and allow the state to audit provider agencies.

“Every one of these organizations should have to provide to everybody where this money is going, what their overhead is, and they should be accountable,” said Landgraf.

Support, Inc. officials would not agree to an on-camera interview with the Denver7 Investigators. In a series of emails, company officials said the agency is committed to providing quality care, and characterized the caregivers who spoke to Denver7 as “disgruntled.”

In a statement to Denver7 Tuesday, addressing the Section 8 benefits being withheld from caregivers,  Support, Inc. CEO Dennis Kirkman wrote, in part:

“Support Inc. is in complete compliance with all rules and regulations. We administer this program to a relatively small but important population of consumers.  The requirements are both detailed and stringent.  With this program, Support, Inc. also has the fiduciary responsibility for home visits and inspections to assure full accountability for these funds.  It is a program that is administered with direction and approval from HUD.  It is also fully disclosed to host home providers and the consumer.  As with the previous mention of Medicaid and SSI funds, Support, Inc. is delivering the maximum benefit to consumers through our integrated approach to the delivery of these important services.  Support, Inc. places the highest value on the health and effective treatment of our valued consumers."

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