The state Department of Health (DOH) has never put to use any of the money generated through distinctive license plates and a license application check-off box to support New York’s organ donation campaign, according to an audit issued today by State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. The campaign, known as the Life Pass It On Trust Fund, had a balance of more than $1 million in December 2015 and has not been used by DOH since its inception over a decade ago.
“New Yorkers who tried to help others did not expect their money to sit unused in a bank account,”said DiNapoli. “New York ranks among the lowest nationally in registering organ and tissue donors, yet we’re sitting on $1 million that could make a real difference in the lives of New Yorkers needing an organ transplant. Too many times we’ve found that the state has failed to spend the money New Yorkers have given for worthy or lifesaving causes.”
In 2014, DiNapoli released a report that scrutinized the state’s personal income tax check-off donation programs. His report found more than $14 million accumulated in six check-off funds, with nearly 90 percent of that for health-related causes including breast cancer, prostate cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. In November 2015, the Governor signed into law legislation submitted by the Comptroller to ensure that tax check off funds were used in a timelier manner.
Most recently, DiNapoli’s auditors examined DOH management of special revenue funds from April 1, 2013 through December 31, 2015. In addition to the Life Pass it On Trust Fund, auditors reviewed the Autism Awareness Fund, Drive Out Diabetes Fund and the Multiple Sclerosis Fund.
Auditors revealed DOH has received $108,225 for the Autism Awareness Fund since 2005 and disbursed a total of $37,940. The Drive Out Diabetes Fund has received $89,026 since 2003 and DOH has spent $64,293. Meanwhile, DOH collected $35,406 for the Multiple Sclerosis Fund since 2004 and spent $31,000.
Although auditors discovered DOH used monies timely and as intended for two of the funds during the audit period (Drive Out Diabetes and Multiple Sclerosis), department officials have generally taken a passive approach to managing and utilizing special revenue funds, lacking any specific plans and policies for fund management and making little effort to promote the funds or raise awareness of their existence.
DOH has also failed to report to the public on its use of the funds; adequately promote the funds to raise awareness and increase contributions; or adequately communicate with the state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) regarding possible collaboration of marketing efforts.
As a result, the audit shows that contributions to each of the campaigns has stagnated in recent years. Specifically:
- The Life Pass It On Trust Fund received contributions in the $4,000 to $7,000 range during its first five years. Contributions then jumped to more than $124,000 when the $1 license application check-off box was instituted in 2009. This trend continued over the next two years, reaching its peak at $208,000 in state fiscal year (SFY) 2011-12. However, contributions have declined over the last four fiscal years and totaled just over $106,000 in SFY 2015-16.
- The Autism Awareness Fund had six consecutive years of revenue ranging between $10,000 and $12,000. In SFY 2014-15, contributions totaled just under $10,000 and in SFY 2015-16, contributions are just over $6,000.
- The Drive Out Diabetes Fund had four consecutive years between $8,000 and $10,000 in revenue, but has not exceeded $8,000 for the last six fiscal years. SFY 2015-16 contributions were just over $3,000.
- The Multiple Sclerosis Fund had two consecutive years of more than $5,000, but has not exceeded $5,000 in contributions for the last six fiscal years. SFY 2015-16 contributions were just over $1,000.
DiNapoli recommends DOH establish and implement fund management controls to ensure that special revenue funds supported by voluntary fees and contributions are utilized timely and for their intended purposes. This should include:
- Written plans and policies geared toward the management of specific special revenue funds;
- Procedures to effectively promote the respective distinctive license plates of each fund, as well as the state’s ability to accept grants, gifts, and bequests for these funds;
- Public disclosure of how funds are used;
- Regular monitoring of fund activity; and
- Communicating with DMV regarding revenue deposits and possible collaboration of marketing/promotional efforts.
The state Department of Health agreed with some of the findings, but not others. Its full response is included in the audit.
For a copy of the complete report, Management of Selected Special Revenue Funds, visit:
For access to state and local government spending and more than 50,000 state contracts, visit http://www.openbooknewyork.com/. The easy-to-use website was created by DiNapoli to promote openness in government and provide taxpayers with better access to the financial workings of government.