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LISA CORNWELL

Associated Press

CINCINNATI — The state’s government watchdog says $255,000 in federal stimulus money for training Ohio workers might have been improperly spent.

Ohio Inspector General Randall Meyer’s report released Tuesday questioned expenditures including wages and benefits that weren’t documented as required and articles such as cellphone bills and gift cards that weren’t shown to be related to approved grant activities.

A release from the inspector general’s office says the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services’ Office of Workforce Development “failed to adequately oversee the $1 million federal grant for the Constructing Futures” jobs-training initiative for southwest Ohio.

Benjamin Johnson, a spokesman for Job and Family Services, which oversees federal stimulus spending, said Wednesday the agency is reviewing the report.

“In some cases there may be additional documentation that the local area has that justifies the costs,” Johnson said. “And in some cases, questioned costs may turn out to be unallowable and we would look to recoup the money from the local area and return the money to the federal government.”

Job and Family Services has 60 days to respond, Ohio Deputy Inspector General Carl Enslen said.

The report was the last of a series of three on investigations by the inspector general focusing on the Constructing Futures initiative. The other two reports focused on central Ohio and northwest Ohio. The initiative was established in 2009 to create pre-apprenticeship programs, including education and work training with an emphasis on minorities and women.

Meyer found potential misspending of almost $467,000 of the $2.8 million in federal stimulus money spent on Constructing Futures initiatives in central, northwest and southwest Ohio, Enslen said.

The review of the program, which included several organizations in southwest Ohio, found that a total of more than $138,000 of the questionable expenses were for staff wages and benefits.

Some of the specific agencies referred to in the report included the Cincinnati Labor Agency for Social Services and the Cincinnati-Hamilton County Community Action Agency. The report said they didn’t provide enough documentation regarding stipends paid to people attending training classes, and the inspector general couldn’t determine whether $82,557 in charges met grant requirements.

Cathy Metcalf, director of the labor agency, said she couldn’t comment because she had not seen the report. The community action agency did not immediately return calls.

Other questioned spending included Allied Construction Industries and Straight 2 the Heart, both in Cincinnati. The report noted they were reimbursed thousands of dollars for expenditures including cellphones, land lines and Internet services without fully documenting that those bills were paid in keeping with the grant.

Allied Construction also bought gift cards for door prizes at training events, but the report said those purchases aren’t approved under the grant. Terry Phillips, executive director of the nonprofit trade organization, said it will review the report but is comfortable with the work it did on the program.

A recording said a phone number listed for the nonprofit Straight 2 the Heart may have been disconnected.

The report also said the Easter Seals Work Resource Center in Cincinnati didn’t provide documentation for more than $7,000 it received for staff wages and administrative costs. Officials at the center, now known as Easter Seals TriState, did not immediately return calls Wednesday.

The report has been forwarded to federal and other state officials for their review.

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