Nonprofit Bankruptcy Renews Questions About HRA Program

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When the major nonprofit Federation, Employment & Guidance Services (FEGS) announced last month that it was going bankrupt, it meant employees were going to have to find new work and vendors might have to wait to get paid. It also meant that a controversial welfare-to-work program was at a crossroads.

In three boroughs, FEGS ran the Human Resources Administration’s WeCARE (Wellness, Comprehensive, Assessment, Rehabilitation and Employment) program, earning $61 million a year to handle just over 30,000 clients whose ability to work was impeded by a disability. WeCARE was supposed to separate disabled people who—with a little training or help—could work, get them the assistance or treatment they needed, and help the rest apply for Social Security disability benefits.

FEGS ran WeCare in Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island while another nonprofit, FedCap, operated it in Brooklyn and Queens. FedCap will assume WeCARE operations in the three boroughs FEGS had served through the end of the current contract, which runs through October 2017.

But FEGS demise is a good excuse to review how closely WeCARE performance has been monitored since 2007 and 2008, when an advocacy group and the city comptroller both faulted WeCare for wasting money and complicating people’s lives.

WeCARE built upon the existing HRA programs that served those public assistance cash recipients that had barriers to employment. Public Assistance recipients claiming a mental or medical barrier to working would be referred to WeCARE for an employability/disability assessment. A medical or mental health professional would perform these assessments and the client could have a recommendation brought in by their own practioners. An employability determination was then made with the following recommendations: treatment, employment services, or assistance to make an application for social security benefits.

The contract that funded WeCARE operations was substantially based on performance outcomes, or milestones. For FEGS, nearly two-thirds of program income came from milestone payments. Every time a critical service—like finalizing an “Employability Plan,” placing a client in a job or creating a wellness plan—was completed, FEGS put in for payment. HRA was supposed to check to make sure the work had been done. An independent agency (the New York County Health Services Review Organization, which has since changed its name to Med Review.) was also hired to monitor the program’s medical practices.

But many reported that monitoring was still lax.

A 2007 report by the community-based organization Community Voices Heard (CVH) identified a number of problems with WeCARE. The focus was on client experiences. However, there were some problems identified with program oversight.

A June 30, 2008 audit report by then-City Comptroller William C. Thompson also criticized WeCARE’s monitoring. The audit made 14 recommendations to HRA for better monitoring. Of these recommendations, HRA accepted 12. Among the recommendations were that HRA should “create a central repository of records and data regarding the WeCARE contracts” and “establish clear responsibility for milestone reviews.” The audit report shows that a total of $2,053,869 was paid to WeCARE vendors for unsupported milestone claims.

As of this writing, the city has no plans to recapture these overpayments. At least some of the recommendations do appear to have been implemented. Past critics of WeCare say some problems persist, but they are quick to add that they want to give current HRA Commissioner Steve Banks, a long-time critic of the agency, a chance to improve performance. The new administration, one nonprofit executive tells, is much more open to suggestions than was the Bloomberg team.

Legal action is already shaping what the next round of WeCARE will look like. Shortly after FEGS announced its demise, HRA announced a settlement in a nine-year class action suit over its treatment of the disabled. Deputy HRA Commissioner for Communications, Marketing and Legislative affairs David Neustadt says HRA “will be revising its WeCARE RFP to reflect the requirements of that settlement and its plans for improving care for all its clients.”

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4 thoughts on “Nonprofit Bankruptcy Renews Questions About HRA Program

  1. Fedcap We are is nothing more than over priced babysitting operation that’s taking money that could be used to put people to work doing things around the city like picking up paper on the highway,bridges, cleaning parks & buildings, downtown areas.The money that is paid to them could be used to pay the people that’s on welfare along with the money that’s given to them every other week, you have people that been there for years sitting around in suits lining the pockets of Fed cap we care with little or no help to the city or the people that are in the program, they’re falsely reporting to the city the help that they provide to keep the contract with the city when in all actuality they’re doing nothing but draining the city & fooling the people & taking credit for helping the people that are on welfare more time’s than not.

  2. I was talking to a friend of mine who was in the fedcap we care program and was working on a wep site and had a stroke and fedcap supplied him with a social security advacate he said that they showed up at the social security Herring a hour and a half late and when they showed up they were no help at all, they said nothing on his behalf and actually had no knowledge of his case. The truth of the matter is that programs like this won’t work as long as the people that work for them are not compatent or don’t care about the people they are supposed to be helping most of them are just going through the motions like robots, for example I go to my we care counselor and explain to her that I’m taking steriod shots and also going through accupuncture she asked me how is my physical therapy going and I haven’t said anything about physical therapy it’s like she doesn’t know the difference between the two it’s like shes lost or something, it’s all I can do is hold on to my composure and this is what I have to deal with every time I see her it’s frustrating to say the least. I also went to their doctors and nurses and told them my problem they checked me out and said I could not work with my back and knee problems and put me on a so-called we care wellness plan, what they told me to do I was already doing on my own anyway I didn’t need them to tell me to go to my doctor and keep my appointments and do what the doctor says I was already doing that for myself anyway. I told their doctors that if I sit or stand too I get sharp pain in my back and right knee, they Left that out of their report and I know I told them this. They wrote the report to benefit them not me, I also told them that I have already filed for social security and was waiting on a decision, they me now I have to come there and sit around for six hours a day, that’s not helpful to me it’s frustrating. I’ll bet I’m not the only person that they have done this too, bottom line is that they are doing whats best for them not the client’s, but every client they keep saying that they are helping they keep getting a check. Every body is not trying to beat the system I was working before I hurt my back so I know that it’s better to be working than to be on welfare I don’t need them to tell me that. I know that it’s a lot of people that think being on welfare is alright but I’m not one of them I know that it’s better to work I always worked, I passed the test for sanitation department but with my back and knee the way they are now I can’t work, for now I can’t but I will not be like this forever, but I admit it’s lasted longer than I thought it would, believe me it’s not by choice that I’m on welfare, and to go to a place where they are supposed to be helping you and get frustrated not one time but every time is disheartening. They are just bleeding the system.

  3. Are there any good programs to help the poor, disabled but functional?

    It seems like all programs like homeless shelters, food stamps, Medicaid, are all designed to
    get you out the door. They all have work requirements. A lot of people are functional but still disabled. These are the poorest people that need the most help.

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