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Problems with funds causing hardship for JOY Centers

The executive director of the Chaves County JOY Centers says the organization has experienced significant delays in receiving state reimbursements several times this year, resulting in a recent hold up in paying employees. In this photo, the Roswell center on North Montana Avenue is shown hosting a back-to-school fundraiser in August. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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The Chaves County JOY Centers and some other senior care agencies in the state are finding themselves in a difficult situation.

They are facing much longer delays in receiving reimbursement for services this fiscal year.
For the JOY Center, which has four locations in the county, the delayed processing meant that employees recently went without pay for about a week.
“We had exhausted all our options,” said JOY Centers Executive Director Monica Duran, who recently received the expected payment about three weeks later than anticipated. Duran added that she has spoken to state legislators, including Rep. Candy Spence Ezzell (R-Roswell) and Sen. Cliff Pirtle (R-Roswell), to ask for their assistance.
Ezzell said that she has discussed the situation with officials at the New Mexico Department of Aging and Long-Term Services and the Department of Finance and Administration.
“This is not going to work because it affects our most vulnerable citizens in our county,” Ezzell said. “If (the intermediary) can’t get the money out, it puts all of our senior centers in dire straits.”
She said that she has suggested to officials that an audit of the intermediary, the Non-Metro Area Agency on Aging (AAA), which processes payments, might need to occur to find out the exact causes of the problems and that she will stay involved until the problems are resolved.
Tim Armer, executive director of the North Central New Mexico Economic Development District, the parent organization of the Non-Metro Area Agency on Aging, said that the problem is not with his agency.
He said that AAA is continuing to forward the payment requests to the state within 10 days of the end of the month, as it has done in the past.
He said the hold up most likely is occurring with the Department of Aging and Long-Term Services.
By contract, he said, the state Aging Department can take up to 30 days after it receives payment requests to review, approve and authorize payment requests. That agency then forwards payment authorizations to the Department of Finance and Administration. DFA typically takes two days or so to process the payments, he said, and then it takes a few days for AAA to disburse the state money to its providers once AAA receives the state payments.
“By contract, it could legitimately take up to 40 days to get those payments out and that’s what is happening in this case,” Armer said.
He said he has been given a few reasons for why lengthy delays have occurred three or four times now. Those include state budget difficulties. He added that his agency is also affected, as are some of the other 68 providers that use AAA as the intermediary.
“It has caused some problems, particularly for the non-profits that we serve, like Chaves JOY, in terms of cash flow,” he said. “Our administrative costs are associated with those payments, so it affects all of us.”
State spokesman Paul Rhien did not answer specific questions about why delays are occurring but provided a comment.
“The New Mexico Aging and Long-Term Services Department takes these concerns seriously,” he wrote in an email. “We have been in touch with Chaves County JOY Centers and are actively working with the Non-Metro (Area) Agency on Aging on solutions to resolve billing and reimbursement issues. We are engaged in helping to ensure that valuable services and programs to New Mexico seniors are not disrupted.”

Duran described a situation that has occurred three or four times during the past fiscal year for the organization, which provides meals, housekeeping, transportation, adult day care and other services for senior citizens. Reimbursements are expected by about the 20th for services provided the previous month. Instead, the JOY Centers have received the payments the last week of the month or even into the following month.
For example, the organization would have expected, based on previous years, to receive reimbursement for July 2017 services by Aug. 20. Instead, the Joy Centers received payment this Tuesday, more than three weeks later.
Having already used its line of credit because of an earlier decision by the state to reduce reimbursements for the center for certain services, the JOY Centers found themselves unable to pay employees on time in September because of the delayed July reimbursement, Duran said.
“We have wonderful employees who are dedicated to their work,” she said. “Everyone has shown up for work, but it did affect them. Most people are living paycheck to paycheck.”
So far, she said, the center has not cut back on services provided.
“At this point, it hasn’t affected our
services,” she said. “Of course, it will create a domino effect if we can’t pay
our vendors.”
Duran added that she has heard other people with senior care agencies discuss having similar difficulties, but said that nonprofits such as the JOY Centers are often more vulnerable.
“We are all funded differently,” she said. “Some of the others are funded by other government entities as well, or they are for-profits with other sources of income. We don’t have that additional cushion.”
Ezzell said she was told slow reimbursements have affected a senior center in northern New Mexico, prompting another legislator to look into that situation.
Cecilia “Cissy” Acosta with the New Mexico Senior Olympics said her agency has not been affected, but that her group receives very little of its funding from the Aging and Long-Term Services Department.
Finance Manager Barbara Rios of Deming Luna County Senior Center said that her agency has been working with state officials for a year to solve the delayed reimbursement issue, which she said the center has experienced for about three years now and she believes has many factors, including inefficient software and processes used by the Area Agency on Aging.
She said the Deming center sometimes makes payroll “by the skin of its teeth” and is helped by the fact that it exists in an area where it can run sanctioned bingo games to earn money.
“Anyone can jump on this who wants to,” she said, “but we’ve been talking to and meeting with (state officials) for some time now to fix this problem.”
Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 310, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.