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RI Veterans Home has money problems

Target 12

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – In the same week Americans across the country celebrated veterans, Target 12 has learned the R.I. Veterans Home has money problems.  

The R.I. Office of Veterans Services is projecting a nearly $3 million deficit in the current fiscal year, stemming largely from widespread miscalculations of costs to manage, staff and even clean the newly renovated Veterans Home in Bristol.

“The cleaning contract is much more than we thought it would be because it’s a much bigger facility,” Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo said Friday during a taping of WPRI 12’s Newsmakers.

Over the last decade, state and federal taxpayers have pumped about $121 million into developing the 110-acre complex on Mount Hope Bay. The long-term care facility has more than 200 beds (192 skilled nursing care beds and 16 transitional housing beds) designated for veterans, and they have been in high demand since the new facility opened in 2017.

Issues with the Veterans Home budget first came to light last week when state departments released first-quarter financial reports. Veterans Services, which operates the Veterans Home, was one of only a few departments running a multimillion-dollar deficit.

The state allocated about $25 million in general revenue to support the entire department, including the Veterans Home, according to the financial statement. (With federal funds and restricted receipts, the department received about $40 million).

When asked about the Veterans Home budget problems earlier this week, Veterans Director Kasim Yarn said it was mostly related to contracts.

“Our cleaning contract with the facility and staffing – those are the two main items,” Yarn said.

Raimondo was at the Bristol facility on Monday to celebrate Veterans’ Day, and said she met with management Thursday to discuss the budgetary problems.

“Some of it is that we under-budgeted initially, because it’s more expensive to take care of a bigger place, and part of it is that we need to manage better,” Raimondo said on Newsmakers.

“We need to do a better job,” she added.

The deficit poses a challenge for Veteran Services in part due to a new requirement including in this year’s state budget that seeks to restrict overspending across departments.

The change, known as Article 2, prohibits departments from spending extra money on anything that isn’t necessitated by “immediate health and safety reasons.”

What that means for the Veterans Home isn’t immediately clear, although the R.I. Office of Management and Budget is expected to send a letter to Yarn next week detailing which spending is allowed moving forward.

Veterans Services will also be subject to stricter oversight from OMB, which sent a similar letter to the R.I. Department of Children, Youth and Families last week. The embattled child welfare agency currently expects to overspend its budget by $22 million.

Eli Sherman (esherman@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for WPRI 12. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.

Steve Nielsen contributed to this report.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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