MS helping stimulus recipients avoid financial reporting errors

By Danielle Thomas - bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Governor Haley Barbour says he plans to take up with the White House our state's concerns about an accountability system for billions in federal stimulus money.

The State Auditor's office says the federal government has made it the responsibility of states to track stimulus funds. On Wednesday, a series of statewide workshops kicked off in Biloxi to help individual recipients better understand the financial reports they'll be required to file.

Jones County Junior College officials say when the school was awarded $666,000 in federal stimulus money, they were both excited and concerned.

"One of the things that we are trying to do at Jones County Junior College is be proactive about how we spend this money," said Rick Youngblood, Vice President of Business Affairs. "We don't want to do anything wrong. We want to make sure we're going by all the guidelines."

Youngblood was among those in a seminar held by the State Auditor's office. The workshop is designed to give people how to give a complete and accurate financial report, especially since the feds are holding the state accountable.

"If something goes wrong, they're going to look to the state, to the governor's office, to the auditors to find out what happened," said Samantha Atkinson of the State Auditor's Office. "One of the biggest problems we're having is just trying to find out who has got the money, who is required to report and who's not required to report."

The first spending reports are due in early October. State officials say federal requirements for what information must be included in those reports continue to evolve.

"We know that the rules are going to change. We know six to nine months from now there is going to be additional reporting that is going to be required from the federal government. We want our recipients in Mississippi to be prepared for that," Atkinson said.

State officials say to better prepare Jones County Junior College and other stimulus recipients, the state is working on a centralized reporting system that is user friendly and free of charge.  Some recipients will be required to report information on areas like wages, building materials, and job creation. The state is hoping to keep recipients from running into problems with oversight agencies.

"The state auditor is concerned that all prime recipients get as much good information as they can so they can make good decisions," Atkinson said.

Atkinson said Mississippi is one of 16 states being monitored by the federal government for stimulus spending. State officials say they receive visits from the Government Accountability Office every other month, which has been a tremendous help.

©2009 WLOX. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.