The former head of the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind left office this year amid accusations of financial mismanagement, and now those missteps are costing the agency more than a million dollars.
John Oliveira, the current commissioner, announced at a meeting of the agency’s Statutory Advisory Board last week that the federal government penalized the agency $1.4 million for mismanaging a $7.9 million-a-year grant.
The grant from the federal Rehabilitation Services Administration is designed to support programs that help members of the blind community find and keep jobs. To meet the terms of the grant, though, the commission must spend matching funds at a level that’s consistent with, or more than, what was spent in the prior two-year window. The commission failed to do that in 2021, when it spent $1.4 million less on vocational training than it did in 2019. Because of that mistake, the RSA withheld that amount from the fiscal year 2024 grant for the commission’s vocational programs.
The $1.4 million is the largest loss of federal funds the commission is facing, but not the only one. It is also in the process of paying back more than $37,000 of a federal grant for another employment program received in fiscal year 2022, also because the commission failed to spend the required amount of matching funds, the MCB confirmed.
Each year, the Commission for the Blind receives about $29 million in state funds, and almost $8.5 million a year in federal grant money. Typically, the commission must match 10 percent to 20 percent of federal funding to meet the terms of those grants.
Deborah Macaulay, a Duxbury woman who is among almost a dozen who sit on one of the commission’s regional advisory committees, described the losses as evidence of gross financial mismanagement.
“The money that ends up getting returned,” Macaulay said in an interview, “that was money that should end up going to blind people.”
During the board meeting, Oliveira said the agency can cover the lost funding by spreading grant money received this year over 16 to 18 months.
The commission has already met the required match amount for fiscal year 2023, the agency reported, and has no other debts to the federal government.
Oliveira acknowledged during the board meeting that correcting the fiscal mess he inherited has taken up most of his time since he became commissioner in September.
“My primary main focus is really to work closely with the fiscal team and get our fiscal house back in order,” he said.
The previous commissioner, David D’Arcangelo, left in April shortly after the Globe reported on financial incompetence, poor decision-making, and belligerence toward staff during his administration. Among the examples of financial mismanagement during his tenure, the agency failed to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in the commission’s budget, oversights that included rarely using money from a fund maintained to provide help to people with blindness during personal emergencies.
The commissioner who preceded D’Arcangelo, Paul Saner, once complained to then governor-elect Maura Healey’s office that D’Arcangelo “has no financial acumen.”
Macaulay’s own frustration with D’Arcangelo’s management prompted her to demand a review of the commission in 2022. The state Office of the Auditor General conducted an audit of the commission’s programs in 2022, finding a widespread lack of oversight for a program that trained and licensed people with blindness to work concessions, such as at newsstands or coffee shops, though the audit did not examine the agency’s overall finances or grant management.
D’Arcangelo did not respond to a call for comment.
Macaulay was furious to learn of the money the commission was giving up.
“It just sounds to me like somebody wasn’t doing their job,” she said during the board meeting. “Are there any repercussions for what has happened?”
Oliveira emphasized that no money was missing, and the agency was focused on moving past D’Arcangelo.
“We want to go forward,” he said during the meeting, “and make our best effort to just straighten things out.”