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Due to financial issues, Mark Robinson family's nonprofit faces North Carolina DHHS probe

North Carolina Lt. Governor Mark Robinson gets a kiss from his wife, Yolanda Hill during a campaign rally announcing he is officially running for governor outside Ace Speedway in Elon, N.C. Saturday, April 22, 2023.
Lynn Hey
North Carolina Lt. Governor Mark Robinson gets a kiss from his wife, Yolanda Hill during a campaign rally announcing he is officially running for governor outside Ace Speedway in Elon, N.C. Saturday, April 22, 2023.

While Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson’s wife told her nonprofit’s clients that she was shutting down because of her husband’s campaign for North Carolina governor, she told a state agency a different story.

For years, Yolanda Hill has led a nonprofit called Balanced Nutrition that helps childcare facilities apply for and receive federal funding for kids’ meals. Mark Robinson and the couple’s son and daughter have worked as employees of the Greensboro nonprofit.

Emails and documents obtained by WUNC through a public records request show the abrupt closure relates to an ongoing investigation by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the childcare center nutrition program.

One issue highlighted in the DHHS records was that Balanced Nutrition at one point didn’t have a balanced budget. On a budget spreadsheet for the nonprofit dated 2023, an entry in the document noted that the group’s expenses were higher than its income.

“NOT OK,” someone wrote alongside a frowning face emoji, directing the group to either increase its income or decrease its expenses.

Another budget document noted that Balanced Nutrition wasn’t in compliance with a program requirement that administrative costs — such as staff salaries — can’t exceed 15% of overall funding.

One of the administrative costs that may have contributed to that issue: Hill’s salary was about $140,000 per year as of last year — a big increase from the $71,000 salary she was paid in 2019, according to the group’s budget documents. Budget documents provided by DHHS were signed by Hill and either Kimberly Cephas (the Robinsons' daughter) or Danzeto Cephas (their son-in-law), who has served on the nonprofit's board of directors.

Records show a contentious back-and-forth between Hill and DHHS employees in recent months as the agency conducts a review of the nonprofit’s work. Problems with paperwork and financial records had put Balanced Nutrition at risk of losing its renewal as a sponsoring organization in the program.

As another detailed DHHS review loomed in April, Hill questioned the agency’s motives in applying scrutiny to her organization.

“As an organization, there are numerous things that have happened and been documented that makes us feel as if we are the target of some type of vendetta, be it personal or political,” Hill wrote on March 11 after she was informed of the April review.

DHHS officials responded that Balanced Nutrition would face an additional review in April because of findings related to "menus, time sheets, Specific Prior Written Approval (SPWA) and Income Eligibility Applications (IEAs)/Enrollments”[CC1] when the nonprofit went through a routine review process last year.

“When findings are noted the State agency can take one of two paths, declare the institution Seriously Deficient or put the institution back on the review schedule to determine if the findings from the previous year were fully corrected,” Cassandra Williams wrote to Hill on March 12, adding that DHHS opted to pursue the additional review.

Hill responded by requesting an in-person meeting with DHHS to discuss her “concerns” about the upcoming probe. Williams proposed meeting the following Friday, but Hill declined the proposed meeting date, saying she needed to arrange a date with the nonprofit’s attorney and would follow up later.

Email records provided by DHHS don’t show any additional follow-up from Hill in the subsequent weeks, but Hill cites the requested meeting in her April 2 letter to DHHS announcing her plans to end Balanced Nutrition’s participation in the program.

“Balanced Nutrition has requested an in-person meeting to address serious concerns,” Hill wrote. “However, that meeting has not taken place and no correspondence in relation to that meeting request has been received since March 14, 2024. After consulting with our attorney, the organization made the decision to close and pursue other options to address these concerns.”

Unlike Hill’s message to participating childcare centers, the letter makes no mention of Hill’s time constraints related to Robinson’s campaign for governor as a factor. She told clients in an April 2 email that the campaign made her “extremely busy” and “those obligations no longer allow me the time to be a sponsoring organization.”

DHHS records and emails also show that Balanced Nutrition faced paperwork problems as deadlines approached for its renewal in the nutrition program.

A Feb. 5 email noted that Balanced Nutrition was “missing documentation” for 44 of its childcare center clients. With a looming deadline for renewal application materials, DHHS wrote to Hill that “it appears that over the last week or so document/areas have been entered into the system. However please keep in mind that once submitted the State Agency has thirty (30) days to assess thus this will place the Sponsoring Organization in jeopardy of being found Seriously Deficient.”

Balanced Nutrition was a source of criticism during Robinson’s primary campaign. Conservative blogger Brant Clifton said the organization’s work was part of the “welfare state.”

Financial paperwork for the nonprofit also faced scrutiny. For example, some of its IRS filings listed no salary for Hill and the Robinsons’ son Dayson, while others showed them being paid by Balanced Nutrition.

Mark Robinson himself worked for the nonprofit in 2018 before he launched his campaign for lieutenant governor. He wrote in his autobiography that Hill’s success with the nonprofit allowed him to quit his job at a furniture company in 2018 and move toward becoming a candidate.

When asked about Balanced Nutrition earlier this month, a spokesman for Robinson’s campaign referred questions to the nonprofit’s attorney, Tyler Brooks. Brooks did not respond to an email seeking more information about Hill’s claim that the DHHS scrutiny was part of a “vendetta.”

Colin Campbell covers politics for WUNC as the station's capitol bureau chief.