Auditor General: ‘State must do more to keep people warm, safe through winter’

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HARRISBURG, Pa. - The Auditor General says Pennsylvania must do more to keep people warm through the winter. This comes after an audit on two energy conservation and assistance programs from the Department of Human Services and the Department of Community and Economic Development.

"This is an emergency program and DCED needs to fix this immediately," said DePasquale.

DePasquale's audit found DCED failed to spend about $5.4 million dollars of U.S. Department of Energy funds over four years because of the 2015-16 budget impasse.

"It shows a complete lack of preparation for when that budget was finally done to get this money out the door," said DePasquale.

The audit recommends 20 ways to improve the weatherization program, seven of which the department disputes, including not quantifying the waiting list because there will always be a list, something past audits of the program since 2007 recommended be changed.

"If there wasn't always going to be a list, you wouldn't need a weatherization program, that's the whole point," said DePasquale. "There should be a priority and if somebody's on that list longer than others you put them to the top of the list and figure out why they're on that list longer. I mean ask any kindergartener that, maybe they need to be put in charge of this program at DCED, they can't do any worse."

DePasquale says if DCED continues to operate the program as they have, changes will need to be made.

"If they're not willing to reconsider their approach to this program the Governor's Office should considering moving the department to people who give a damn and that would be at DHS," said DePasquale.

While DCED's audit was not very positive, DePasquale praised DHS' Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program. The audit found overall DHS was doing a good job managing LIHEAP and were given three areas to improve in regards to payment errors.

"There is obviously still work for improvement," said DePasquale. "And we are confident DHS will continue to make strides to improve the program."

DCED declined to comment on camera, but sent us this statement in regards to the audit report:

DCED disagrees with the auditor general’s position on the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP), which leaves out crucial information and profoundly misrepresents the purpose of the program. This audit was conducted at a time when federally-mandated changes, including drastically higher work standards, were in process of being implemented to weatherization programs across the United States. These changes caused a downward ripple effect that hurt local agencies and caused subcontractors that do weatherization work to no longer participate in the weatherization program. With fewer subcontractors participating in the program, less actual weatherization work could be done and the ability for local agencies to work through their waiting lists was diminished. The federal changes forced major challenges on programs in every state, not just Pennsylvania, and the changes were given almost no consideration by this audit.

This is not representative of the WAP as a whole. In fact, despite these challenges, DCED was still able to dispense more than $30 million and weatherize more than 3,700 homes within the period of this audit.

We want to be clear that the weatherization assistance program is an energy efficiency program – not an emergency crisis assistance program. Its purpose is to help qualified low-income individuals make their homes more energy-efficient. The repeated statements to the contrary represent a fundamental misunderstanding from the Office of the Auditor General on what the program is designed to do. While it’s true that members of vulnerable populations are the ones applying for weatherization, anyone in crisis who needs emergency heating services are served by the LIHEAP funding that the weatherization program administers separately from the weatherization funding and waiting list referred to in this audit. These individuals get top priority and immediate assistance so no one is left in the cold.

We will continue to address deficiencies with all of our programs to improve the services offered to Pennsylvania businesses and residents. For the WAP, DCED’s goal is to identify as efficiently as possible which clients are eligible for weatherization, and to provide those clients with services in a timely manner. While there is certainly room for improvement that is pointed out by this audit, it is not a fair representation of the work of DCED staff and the WAP.

The full 90 page audit can be found here.

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