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NEON Officials Vow Financial Problems Are In The Past

The anti-poverty agency Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now is working with the state to return more than $314,000 in misappropriated funds.
The anti-poverty agency Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now is working with the state to return more than $314,000 in misappropriated funds. Photo Credit: Alfred Branch

NORWALK, Conn. – More than $314,000 claimed by the state on behalf of the anti-poverty agency Norwalk Economic Opportunity Now must be returned to the federal government, under a ruling from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The money, according to former NEON officials, was misappropriated to various accounts instead of to the Head Start program prior to early 2012 when the discrepancies were discovered. As a result, former NEON president and CEO Joseph Mann stepped down, and the agency began to rebuild its organization.

“NEON is moving forward,” said Patricia Wilson Pheanious, NEON interim president and CEO, in a statement. “We have worked to overcome long-term mismanagement and to achieve future excellence.”

The ruling was issued late last week by the Office of Inspector General for the federal health and human services department, which found five areas where NEON and the state erred, which led to the financial problems:

  1. Costs that were not reasonable for the performance of the program;
  2. Indirect expenses charged to the grants based on an unallowable methodology;
  3. Operating costs that were not reasonable and renovation costs without a Federal waiver that did not meet program objectives;
  4. Prohibited lobbying, fundraising, and donations;
  5. Costs for missing equipment.

The agency has already begun working with the state to recoup all misappropriated money, vowing to “use every vehicle that is available in this circumstance” to do so.

“The multiple issues cited in this report occurred prior to March 2012 and under a different administration,” said Wilson Pheanious. “I can certainly respond to questions, but, this is old news. Our agency now has a new board, a new management team and a firm, forward direction. We have acted aggressively to put the past in its rightful place – and to move toward an increasingly promising future.”

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