WYNNE, Ark. – An Arkansas man requesting rental assistance said he will not delete a confidential state document he received that contains hundreds of people’s names and addresses.
Jimmy Brewer said he has been working to get rental assistance from the state for months, but had run into issues multiple times.
“I’ve done everything they told me too,” Brewer said. “They lost our application two or three times, we had to upload it two or three times.”
He is one of 46,000 Arkansans asking for help, but he got denied until filing an appeal.
Brewer showed Working 4 You some of the emails between him and a Department of Human Services specialist.
Friday, Oct. 29 | 8:26 a.m. | From DHS to Brewer
“I’m following up with you regarding your request for helping paying rent. You should have received an email to appeal the decision on your application when it was denied.”
Friday, Oct. 29 | 8:48 a.m. | From Brewer to DHS
“I will get this to you ASAP.”
“She was my caseworker,” Brewer explained. “A very nice lady.”
Tuesday, Nov. 2 | 8:17 a.m. | From DHS to Brewer
“Your case has been reopened and is being reviewed for payment. I’ll let you know when it is paid and when the check will be mailed.”
Wednesday, Nov. 3 | 3:25 p.m. | From Brewer to DHS:
“Thank you for helping me…”
Monday, Nov. 8 | 8:20 a.m. | From DHS to Brewer:
“Good news, Jimmy! The check should go out this Friday in the amount of $10,500.00.”
Two weeks later, Brewer received another email from the state, this one with an attached document containing a list of 500 or so names.
The list appears to be Arkansans requesting the state for rental assistance. The file includes their name, addresses and other information.
“Household income, number in the house, who the money was sent too–landlord or the tenant, just that kind of stuff,” Brewer described.
It also includes DHS notes, like if the requestor paid their taxes.
Shortly after receiving the email with the attachment, the state replied that Brewer needed to immediately take action.
“I get an email a couple hours later telling me I have to delete it immediately,” he said.
Friday, Nov. 19 | 9:38 a.m. | From DHS to DHS and Brewer
Sunday, Nov. 21 | 6:46 p.m. | From DHS to DHS and Brewer
Please delete email from [name]. She inadvertently sent to you. Thank you.”
Sunday, Nov. 21 | 7:12 p.m. | From Brewer to DHS:
“Now, why would I do that? I need help paying my rent and nobody has helped.”
Sunday, Nov. 21 | 7:24 p.m. | From DHS to Brewer:
“I’m sorry that you are having difficulty. Please call me at —- on Monday to discuss further.”
After months of issues with getting his assistance approved, Brewer said he was hesitant to delete something that showed the approval.
“I don’t know that much about the phones, the email stuff,” he explained. “I just know it came on top of my approval, and I didn’t know if I should delete it and then it would delete all my approval stuff.”
Brewer said after refusing to delete the confidential file, his application status changed.
“I was denied after I refused to delete the email,” he said.
A spokesperson for DHS confirms a staff member inadvertently sent a spreadsheet with some applicant information to an applicant in error.
“The Arkansas Rent Relief Program has helped stabilize housing and pay rent and overdue utilities for thousands of Arkansans, paying over $47 million to date. Though I am prohibited from talking about specific applicants, it is important to understand that both DHS and our contractor handling the rent relief program take program integrity seriously. We want to ensure that these federal taxpayer funds only go to people who are eligible for the program. That means that staff do review cases even after they go to the funding decision/approved stage. If during a review they see any red flags or concerns that may indicate potential fraudulent activity, they dig further. They could look at the actual property, review related records, and even ask for more information to ensure eligibility. That review can result in a change in the status of cases from approved if we find information that conflicts with the information provided by the applicant or other information that may indicate potential fraud.”DHS written statement
“As for the spreadsheet, a staff member did inadvertently send a spreadsheet with some applicant information to an applicant in error. It was the kind of mistake many of us make when two people’s name start with the same letter – when typing in an email address for a co-worker who needed the spreadsheet, the applicant’s email address popped up first. Not realizing that was the case, the spreadsheet was sent. When the staff member realized what happed, the staffer immediately notified supervisors, who in turn, notified our privacy/chief counsel’s office as required. No social security numbers or protected health information were in the spreadsheet. It was a mistake we acknowledge. It has absolutely nothing to do with funding decisions for any cases, and any such allegation of that is simply false.”
The agency’s spokesperson said it does not appear the file was sent to anyone else and the privacy – chief counsel’s office was notified after realizing the error.
“No social security numbers or protected health information were in the spreadsheet,” the spokesperson said. “It was a mistake we acknowledge. It has absolutely nothing to do with funding decisions for any cases, and any such allegation of that is simply false.”
DHS said it is important federal taxpayer funds only go to people who are eligible for the program.
“That means that staff does review cases even after they go to the funding decision-approved stage,” the spokesperson said. “If during a review they see any red flags or concerns that may indicate potential fraudulent activity, they dig further.”
Brewer said he never asked for the document, and when asked if he would delete it if his approval was restored, he indicated the ball was in the state’s court.
“That’s up to them,” he said. “I mean, I really didn’t want the thing. It’s on my phone. I didn’t ask for it.”
In the end, Brewer questions why individuals like him are being held to a different standard than the state.
“[DHS] takes people’s kids and their food stamps for mistakes they make so why shouldn’t they be held accountable for the mistakes they make.”