colorado fees

Lawmakers under the gold dome in Denver are expected to consider fees on government services during the session that begins Jan. 8, 2019.

A pair of pandemic-related programs stood up near the onset of COVID-19 won high marks after being put under the microscope by the Colorado Office of the State Auditor.

Among the reports OSA presented to the Legislative Audit Committee on Monday was an investigation of the Property Owner Preservation Program, which was authorized by House Bill 20-1410 in June 2020. The program stood up operations just weeks after the bill passed and from that point through June 2021, the Division of Housing within the Department of of Local Affairs reported it distributed more than $50 million in federal and state funds.

Under the program, those funds went directly to property owners, who were allowed to to apply for overdue rent owed by tenants affected by the pandemic. Overall, OSA found the program distributed more than 24,400 payments to roughly 1,600 property owners, an achievement some of the panel’s Democrats cheered.

“I want to thank all of you from the Division of Housing for your responsiveness in that moment of crisis by standing up such a critically needed program to respond to keeping people housed,” said Denver Democratic Sen. Julie Gonzales. “The process that we undertook in building out this program and then the speed with which you all executed it was pretty incredible.”

The report did highlight flaws in the program’s implementation, largely stemming from the speed at which is was created, that could improve other DOLA housing programs.

For one, auditors were able to identify roughly $16,000 in payments that weren’t allowed under the program’s rules covering things like duplicate payments, late fees or returned check fees. Ten of the 62 payments reviewed by auditors included such  disallowed payments, which auditors estimate means a total of around $2.4 million in payments were sent out when they shouldn’t have been.

A DOLA representative indicated at the hearing the agency is working with Attorney General Phil Weiser to recover those  disallowed payments and they will be returned to the General Fund once recouped since the program ended earlier this summer.

Auditors also highlighted a pair of problems stemming from the controls the agency put in place.

For one, auditors estimated that in 6% of the cases, the Division of Housing did not received a signed lease from applications ahead of distributing the money, a practice auditor said could leave the program vulnerable to fraud.

DOH also failed to send letters notifying tenants their rent had been covered. The report noted DOH did not send letters to tenants about 11,000 payments made through March 2021, until they were notified of the discrepancy by auditors.

Wendy Hawthorne, deputy director of DOH, said she was thankful for the recommendations on the letters, an issue auditors said could be fixed simply by assigning that duty to someone in the division. But she pushed back on using the recommendation on signed leases for other programs.

“In our current program, which is federally funded, we're following the federal guidance to remove barriers to participation, including allowing alternatives to requiring a signed lease and we believe that's best practice,” she said.

The second COVID-related audit presented by OSA was even more positive for the state.

The review of infection prevention efforts put in place at the state’s Veterans Community Living Centers found staff at those five centers successfully implemented coronavirus mitigation measures.

According to auditors, those measures included:

  • Screening all persons, including staff, at the door of the facility prior to allowing entry
  • Conducting weekly polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing and daily antigen testing for staff
  • Preventing staff from working if they were experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or after receiving a positive test
  • Use of personal protective equipment
  • Frequent handwashing/sanitizing
  • Social distancing
  • Environmental disinfection such as wiping down high-touch surfaces;
  • Reporting active cases in the facility to the Department of Public Health and Environment

“Auditors found that the Living Centers conducted required monitoring activities to ensure that staff properly exercised infection prevention measures and developed plans to correct any issues identified,” OSA said in a release. For example, each Living Center performed at least five and up to 16 infection control audits during the review period. Each Living Center also underwent at least one infection prevention survey conducted by the Department Public Health and Environment on behalf of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.”

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