A state audit found Nebraska left $56 million in federal welfare funds on the table in the past four years, and instead tapped more state funds to help low-income residents.

In a recent letter to the state Department of Health and Human Services, State Auditor Mike Foley said as of June 30, $56 million in federal welfare funds were authorized for Nebraska to use, but wasn’t spent. Of that, Nebraska could have used an estimated $14.7 million in federal funds instead of state funds in 2013 and 2014 alone, reducing the burden on Nebraska taxpayers, the letter said.

Welfare, or what’s now called Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, is a federal block grant program for low-income families with children that tries to shepherd people back to work with cash assistance. The feds allocate money to Nebraska based on a formula, and in recent years, the state has been authorized for about $57 million annually.

The leftover welfare money was discovered during an audit still under way, and will be noted as a significant deficiency in the statewide single audit report — a ding no government entity wants in its audit.

When asked why the department wasn’t spending the federal money, rather than state money, DHHS told the auditor’s office having unspent welfare dollars ensures stability when there’s a government shutdown. DHHS cited the 2013 federal government shutdown as an example of when the reserve was helpful in case new federal funds were no longer available.

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