Friday, December 1, 2017

Tony Baez, Former President And CEO Of The Centro Hispano Milwaukee Claims No Head Start Funds Were Diverted For Other Programs

Centro Hispano Milwaukee responds to allegations that financial mismanagement led to relinquishing federal funding for Head Start and Early Start programs operated by the non-profit organization.

By H. Nelson Goodson
Hispanic News Network U.S.A.

December 1, 2017

Milwaukee, WI - On Thursday, Hispanic News Network U.S.A. (HNNUSA) contacted the Mueller Communications, LLC who is handling any statements that are released from Centro Hispano Milwaukee (CHM) concerning a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (MJS) article alleging that the non-profit organization had relinquished Head Start and Early Start programs funding after it was deemed a "high-risk agency due to financial mismanagement" in 2014. The Administration for Children and Families (ACF), a federal agency in October 30, found that it couldn't ensure that head start funding was solely used for the program due to "ongoing and repeated pattern of inaccurate and delinquent financial reporting" and the CHM maintained a negative bank balance and failed to pay Head Start vendors for services in a timely manner.
The ACF cited a 2015 fiscal year audit of CHM and found that Head Start pragram funds were diverted for other purposes. An estimated $726,000 was listed by CHM in accounts payable and accrued expenses at the end of the year, which a large amount of funds drawn from the Head Start program was not being used to pay "current expenses which the drawn was based". Also Toni Rivera-Joachin, the President and CEO of the CHM indicated that the prior CHM administration under former President and CEO Tony Baez (2006 to 2014) was unable to provide documentation to address the ACF review on how Head Start (HS) program funds were used, according to the MJS article. The ACF indicated it would extend its review and investigation to determine how the HS funds were actually used.
An Internal Revenue Service filing of 990's by CHM indicated that it was operating in a deficit for the last six years.
Baez released a statement to HNNUSA, "In my tenure, never were funds diverted from HS to other programs, and it is absolutely not true that the 2015 audit even suggested that. Take a look at the audit... Gracias!" 
Here's Baez full statement to HNNUSA, "It is very unfortunate that the Milwaukee Sentinel Journal chose such a negative title for their article regarding Centro Hispano Milwaukee. It suggests that fiscal mismanagement has caused the lost of one of its most important programs, Head Start, which Centro Hispano sustained and grew for more than four decades, and is still the largest and most successful dual language program in the state --in spite of the financial difficulties confronted by its parent agency. 
"It is a sensationalist way of creating an image of an agency that since 1964 has been able to serve well the most needy of Milwaukee's Latino community. Unlike other agencies serving Latinos in the city, this agency chose the difficult route of serving as a safety net in the public realm in those areas of greatest need, ensuring that our Latino children, parents and elderly had the support systems in place that institutional agencies were not able to provide. 
"Centro Hispano served the community at a time when no other entity dare take on racism and neglect, and it open doors for others creating other agencies and organizations (UMOS, UCC, Esperanza Unida, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Hispanic Professionals of Greater Milwaukee, etc), agencies and organizations that then helped shape various responses to that racism and neglect. Almost every single agency in Milwaukee that served Latinos was either born out of the Council for the Spanish Speaking and or was supported and grown until it reached its independence, contributing to the quality of life of the Latino community in Milwaukee today --which this city cannot be without, because it depends on us!
"The financial difficulties of Centro Hispano date back to the mid 2,000. They were not unlike the difficulties faced by other social service agencies in other parts of the country. They were the result of social and government policies that sought to destroy community-based agencies that did not join the choir of those who embraced an ideology of competitiveness and what we call today neoliberal thought that claimed that the problems of the poor and the working people were created by their own failure and unwillingness to succeed in the US. Funding, whether governmental or philanthropic came with the condition that those helped had to join the workforce, and funds for the future preparation of the children of these groups went almost exclusively to private entities or organizations that sought to prepare for the future the oppressors and exploiters that would take the place of those of today. It became almost impossible for community-based agencies offering social service and immigration services to attract any funds that would sustain the ongoing struggles against isolation, racism, anti-immigration and inequality. 
"Centro Hispano was no exception. It became more difficult than ever before to secure funding, yet this was not the case with agencies that espoused the agendas that sustain social classes and unfortunately prepare those who may occupy the role of the oppressors --very much as was the case in colonial and neo-colonial regimes in Latin America and the African continent.  Again, I re-emphasize, this was happening all over the US, not just Milwaukee. It was a new way of extending the already pervasive Jim Crow strategies that kept African Americans segregated, poor and unequal to Latinos, the new growing ethnics who are today the largest group of people of color in the nation. This is not a new thing! It is actually part of the strategy of those who control power and influence. By using a narrative of "efficiency" and a narrative of "we can succeed in a capitalist America," and by drawing on the notions supported by a pseudoscience of opportunism, government and the agencies that became an extension of government, played the game and placed the blame on those who fought this thinking. To bring it to the present, it smells of Trumpism. When ever you want to create an the believe in failure, you just blame someone or something else, diverting from the real issue. 
"Centro Hispano was perhaps the only agency in Milwaukee's Latino community that fought against a narrative of enslavement and the maintenance of the poor and working people of color. It kept trying and trying, but the thinking of neoliberalism was and is very powerful, especially in this city --and the growing Latino entrepreneurship class continue its ascent into such thinking, some hoping to be eventually the colonials that would sustain this unequal, unfair, racist, and undemocratic society. 
"The national Head Start office started its shift to neoliberal efficiency-based approaches in the Bush administration. It was made even worse under the Obama administration (although it attempted some progressive efforts, it was clearly "efficiency" driven and even perfected strategies that made life even harder on people of color and immigrants). It was under the Obama administration that Head Start started a program of "unannounced" visits to now mostly African American and Latino Head Start Centers all over the country. When less expected, a community-based agency with a Head Start program would receive a team of "efficiency" and accounting "experts" that would review every single curricular and fiscal practice in the organization, often spending more than a week doing this, regardless of the costs. Centro Hispano, like many others in the US, went through many of these, and never, never was their a finding of fraud, fiscal neglect, use of Head Start funds for other purposes or failure to deliver a sound educational program. Independent from regional offices (like the arbitrary and difficult office in Chicago), these teams kept recommending that Centro Hispano's program, in spite of the fiscal difficulties of the agency attracting more funds, had to be supported. Actually, in one of the independent reviews, the team confronted the regional office reminding them that it was there obligation to figure a way to support and work with Centro Hispano. When the Chicago office, in what many still consider a racially motivated action, took the Head Start program from the Social Development Commission, the program at Centro Hispano was expanded, even when it did not asked for it. But the Milwaukee Journal did not hear about this. They only focused their so-called investigation on the fiscal instability of Centro Hispano (caused by the context described above), and they called it "fiscal mismanagement." 
"Head Start also instituted a practice of designating agencies as "at-risk." This was usually a function of the independent audits submitted by the agency (like Centro Hispano would do every year). But the audits of Centro Hispano never showed fraud or the use of Head Start funds for other purposes. The agency's 990 did show a slight deficit, but not unlike any other major financial institution in this country (I guess it's OK for Chase, Wells Fargo and other banks to be fined billions of dollars for fraud and abuse while maintaining so-called fiscal stability and balance ledgers--but how dare a small community-based organization show a small deficit). That is simply bull. 
"An agency was designated "at-risk" when the audits revealed a financial forecast that suggested to Head Start financial instability. Surely, in spite of extremely difficult struggles to continue to provide services to the poor and working class, your financial forecast had to appear very promising (with large reserves, etc) for Head Start officials (by the way, this was not the case with HUD funded programs). Thus, an "at-risk" status designation is no more than a "we-are going-to-watch-you-folks-of-color-very-closely. The interesting thing is that once you received that status, there was no way for an agency to divert funds to other programs, because only Head Start related expenses were reimbursed. Mismanagement is a designation that carries a hugely negative stigma, but that typically, and in this case, only exist in the minds of those who used that to end contracts (which sounds very much like what we have coming down today from the hostile and racist minds in Washington, DC).
"In conclusion, what has happened to Centro Hispano is no fault of those who tried to keep this agency alive and serving poor and working class Latinos. There will be attempts by some to claim it was a "problem of mismanagement."  Not so! It is a problem of outlook and ideology intent on doing away with all social, education and immigration services that are liberating, while eliminating safety nets, and reducing limited services to just that:"services" to those less-deserving people, services which are no longer about connecting people to each other and organizing in the public realm against inequality. 
"In the case of Head Start, it must be noted that the agencies who are assigned to "save" services for poor children are typically for profit entities run by members of a privileged group (mostly White sprinkled with some Blacks or Latinos --enough to justify their so-call commitment to diversity). That is what happened with the Head Start program run by SDC and now with the one run by Centro Hispano. Go figure!," Baez stated.
Rivera-Joachin, President and CEO of the CHM (Council for the Spanish Speaking) released the following statement to HNNUSA as well, "When I started in the February of 2015 as interim CEO, the Federal Government had already deemed Centro Hispano Milwaukee a financially "at-risk" Head Start provider in November of 2014. However, Centro Hispano Milwaukee still successfully received the Head Start grant from the Federal Government every year since.
"In recent years, the board and I have made steady progress in our efforts to improve the financial standing of Centro Hispano Milwaukee. Since 2015, Centro Hispano Milwaukee has improved current assets, decreased current liabilities, and paid down debt. However, there is still more work to be done to update our financial management and reporting systems.
Because of this, Centro Hispano Milwaukee voluntarily relinquished the Head Start grants to the Federal Government to allow us time to complete the updates to our financial systems. This is necessary as it is a challenge to maintain program operations while implementing changes to the financial systems. Voluntarily relinquishing the grants does not prevent Centro Hispano Milwaukee from being a grantee or subgrantee in the future. We fully intend to resubmit for the Head Start grant once the updates have been completed.
"The Federal Government has chosen Community Development Institute Head Start (CDI HS) as the interim provider of Head Start services. Beginning on December 1, 2017, CDI HS is responsible for providing Head Start/Early Head Start services to our families.
"During this time, Centro Hispano Milwaukee will continue its commitment to the community through the other programs we provide, including: adult education & workforce development, elderly housing, immigration community social services," Rivera-Joachin stated.

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