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Auditor General Jack Wagner Applauds Legislation to Improve Administration of Weatherization Assistance Program
Offers suggestions to make bill stronger
HARRISBURG, Pa., May 25, 2010 – Auditor General Jack Wagner today praised legislation he said will strengthen and improve the Weatherization Assistance Program in Pennsylvania, but he offered some suggestions he believes will make the bill stronger.
In testimony before the House Commerce Committee, Wagner commended Chairman Peter Daley (D-Fayette/Washington) for holding the meeting and Rep. Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) for introducing House Bill 1637 to improve the Department of Community and Economic Development’s administration of the program.
“The bill offers numerous sorely-needed oversight requirements that will allow Pennsylvania to maximize its oversight responsibility to ensure that vital weatherization assistance funds are not wasted, and go to those who are eligible and truly in need of the assistance,” Wagner said.
While the bill is a good first step towards improving the program, the Department of the Auditor General has offered several suggestions to improve the legislation based on our experience auditing the program, Wagner said.
Wagner recommended the bill be amended to eliminate the established percentage (25 percent) from the definition of a significant discrepancy because it can lead to ineligible applicants receiving assistance; to state that the auditor general shall transmit any information uncovered during the conduct of the performance audit relating to potential fraud to the appropriate government officials and law enforcement authorities; and to eliminate performance audits of the Department of the Auditor General’s Weatherization Assistance Program audits by the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee because they will compromise the independence of the Department of the Auditor General.
The Department of the Auditor General completed an audit of the Weatherization Assistance Program in August 2007, which covered the period July 1, 2001, through June 30, 2006. The audit contained 10 findings and made 24 recommendations to DCED.
Wagner’s audit found that the commonwealth was deficient in the administration of the federally funded Weatherization Assistance Program by failing to prioritize the needs of low-income Pennsylvanians, placing vulnerable citizens at greater risk during the winter season. The audit also determined that there was a backlog of 9,501 applicants that were seeking weatherization assistance, as of June 30, 2008.
Wagner’s audit faulted DCED for weaknesses in tracking expenditures and in contracting for weatherization services. It also cited local agencies’ failure to verify and inspect the work of subcontractors and employees, and noted failure by both DCED and local agencies to measure the effectiveness of weatherization efforts.
According to DCED, since the inception of the program in 1977, weatherization assistance services have been provided to over 475,000 low income homes, providing assistance to more than 1,186,900 Pennsylvania residents. The funds go to local and private non-profit agencies and the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, which, in turn hire subcontractors or use employees to make repairs or upgrades to homes including heating system repair or replacement, insulation of attic, wall, or basement insulation and ventilation; window repair or replacement; electricity conservation measures; or energy saving improvements.
From July 1, 2009 to April 30, 2010, Pennsylvania has expended approximately $93 million, which includes federal stimulus funds, for weatherization or crisis services.
The Weatherization Assistance Program is open to those whose income is 200 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. For example, a two-person household has an income limit of $29,140. For each additional family member, $7,480 is added to reach the new income limit.
“As auditor general, I want to make sure that the program is administered professionally and efficiently so that the commonwealth of Pennsylvania can receive all the federal funding to which it is entitled, and so that Pennsylvanians who truly need assistance, receive all of the protection to which they are entitled,” Wagner said. “This legislation, with our suggested changes, will markedly improve DCED’s administration of the program.”
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