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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

ACUDEN decision to suspend Peñuelas from administering Head Start program is met with protest

Peñuelas Mayor Gregory Gonsález Souchet, at center right wearing a black t-shirt, asked Roberto Pagán, who heads the Administration for the Care and Comprehensive Development of Children, to agree to hold talks with officials of the southern coastal town.

By The Star Staff

Peñuelas Mayor Gregory Gonsález Souchet, along with Head Start employees, protested Monday in front of the offices of the Administration for the Care and Comprehensive Development of Children (ACUDEN by its Spanish acronym) against the decision to suspend the municipality from managing the Head Start centers located in the southern coastal town.

“We have responsibly recognized the deficiencies pointed out in the ACUDEN audit and we have taken action,” Gonsález Souchet said in written remarks. “The most recent thing is that they were going to send us the metrics to follow, but instead they sent us a letter with the determination to take away the administration of the centers, which have fulfilled their work for more than 20 years.”

ACUDEN Administrator Roberto Pagán decided to terminate the service contract with the municipality on July 31.

“Our working group has done everything that has been requested to comply with the requirements imposed by the agency and, even so, the administration of the program was taken away,” Gonsález Souchet said. “In fact, employees were fired at the request of ACUDEN, despite the fact that they were actually doing the work.”

The mayor asked Pagán to agree to hold talks with the town.

“We have no idea who is going to take the baton starting today, August 1st,” he said. “We do not know what is going to happen to the employees and the children because it was not part of the communication.”

District Rep. José “Cheíto” Rivera Madera and at-large lawmaker Jesús Manuel Ortiz participated in the demonstration in support of the employees. Likewise, Puerto Rico Mayors Association President and Villalba Mayor Luis Javier Hernández expressed his solidarity.

The municipality was notified of the breaches on May 3, 2021 and engaged with ACUDEN in creating a corrective action plan. The agency assigned a fiscal controller and a programmatic controller, and provided direct technical assistance. However, 14 months later the failures had not been corrected, ACUDEN said in a recent statement.

According to an investigation, during the intervention process, deficiencies were found in health and safety practices, contracts signed without proper documentation, along with a lack of internal controls and a lack of adequate procedures for working with funds received. Officials also found non-compliance with the required reports, registration required by the program, in the corrective action plans and recurrence of findings.

Because of the mismanagement, the Municipality of Peñuelas must return to the federal government $529,869.27 of the funds received that were deemed misused. Specifically, they must return $492,025.27 in Head Start Funds and $37,844.00 in Recovery Funds. The municipality will have 30 calendar days to return the funds.

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