Click below to read Auditor's news release:
A state audit has found that Nebraska improperly sent nearly $8 million in federal energy-assistance money directly to customers, including some who were known to be dead.
State Auditor Mike Foley said Monday that the payments were made in haste in August 2011, just five weeks before the federal deadline to use the money.
Auditors found that the state made nearly 19,000 payments of either $250 or $500 directly to customers who had previously qualified for "crisis assistance."
The payments should have gone to their energy companies, to ensure they were used as intended.
Auditors say there's no way to confirm how the money was spent. But some checks were cashed at a keno parlor, grocery stores and funeral homes.
Foley said he was stunned that so many dead people were overlooked -- and that those checks were getting cashed.
State officials say they've added safeguards to prevent future occurrences.
“In our contacts with the federal government, they have said our actions are commonly used by other states to distribute [low income energy assistance] funds before they expire, as long as payments are provided to eligible households," said Kerry Winterer, DHHS CEO.
The audit will take two years before the federal government responds, according to Foley.