In December of 2019, the Connecticut State Auditors issued a report on the disposition of funds allocated exclusively by the Connecticut General Assembly for the benefit of educators needing services due to surviving the December 14, 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook, to be administered by the United Labor Agency (ULA) of the AFL-CIO.
The state audit showed $103,713 allocated for survivors had been inappropriately co-mingled with other funds, and of that $87,625 had disappeared from the ULA's accounts.
The issue has been raised during the current campaign because current State Senator Julie Kushner was listed as treasurer of the ULA during the period the money was mishandled and then mis-spent, while she was also in charge of United Auto Workers Region 9A as its Regional Director.
As treasurer of the ULA, Ms. Kushner was responsible to Oversee the Organization's Financial Administration, Review and Enforce Financial Policies and Procedures, Generate Financial Reports, Create a Budget and Advise the Board on Financial Strategy and Fundraising.
Under Ms. Kushner's tenure, the ULA received $115,827 from the state of Connecticut to administer for educators affected by the Sandy Hook school shooting. Records show that $6,323 of that was distributed to 5 recipients, and another $5,791 was taken by the ULA for administrative services, leaving $103,713 in the fund.
After Ms. Kushner's departure from the ULA, the state auditors began looking at the fund, discovered the co-mingling and determined the outright loss of $87,625 from the fund as of June 30, 2018, when Ms. Kushner was listed as ULA Treasurer.
Two months before Ms. Kushner's election, State Representatives Klarides and Bolinsky had requested an audit of the survivor funds. The audit uncovered that the funds had been co-mingled with the ULA funds and as of June 30th all that was left in available cash for all ULA activities was $16,088.
After the audit was brought to the ULA's attention, they replaced the missing funds, according to published reports.
The Community Gazette asked Senator Kusher for a statement about the handling of the survivor funds.
Senator Kushner said "When I became aware of this issue, I immediately demanded an investigation and the state conducted its own independent audit, as well. State auditors found that the funds never went missing, The issue was an accounting error made by others in the organization, and was corrected immediately when it was discovered.
However, what's most important is that the accounting error never impacted any of the intended recipients. Every person who qualified for assistance received a full grant to help them deal with this terrible tragedy and no eligible person was ever denied a grant. The full remaining funds are still available to anyone else who wishes to apply, and I will not be deterred from advocating on behalf of victims of gun violence."
The State Audit, however, seems to tell a somewhat different story.
The document authorizing the ULA to administer the survivor funds stated they were "exclusively to ensure that unionized and non-unionized school personnel who were affected persons under the act continue to have access to programs and services." This would indicate that co-mingling the funds and then spending them on other uses violated the terms that the funds were provided under.
The State Audit states: "In order to fulfill its fiduciary responsibilities, ULA should have maintained a cash (or short-term investment) balance of at least $103,713 earmarked solely for SHWAP (Sandy Hook Workers Assistance Program). However, it appears that as a result of financial difficulties, ULA may have used the SHWAP funds for other purposes."
The State Audit also includes this: "ULA's cash balance was only $16,088 as of June 30, 2018, and it did not have any investments."
A ULA spokesman, Eric Chester has been quoted as stating "The board has also established a number of new financial protocols to assure that nothing like this will happen again in the future."
CT Representative Klarides said "I would hope that anybody else who saw $103,000 missing would not conclude that this was resolved to our satisfaction."
The CT Attorney General's office issued a statement that the auditor's findings were "very serious problems that require thorough review and investigation."
Published reports state that the Connecticut AFL-CIO, parent of the ULA said that when they learned about the missing money, they immediately replaced the $103,000, and also said the union was conducting an internal investigation to determine where the money went.
Connecticut Attorney General William Tong also stated "at a minimum we need to understand how any co-mingled funds were spent, what procedures are in place now to ensure protection of the funds going forward, and whether it makes sense to designate a new entity to safely maintain these funds and provide much needed transparency."
Readers can access the state auditor report that sets the timeline and establishes that the funds were in fact missing online at: www.communitygazette.com/ctaudit