State warns E. Texas agency to clean up act

CENTER, TX (KTRE) - By Donna McCollum - email

CENTER, Texas (KTRE) – Urgent measures are underway to protect millions of dollars of energy assistance funding for the poor, elderly and disabled in East Texas.

Two directors overseeing millions of state-provided energy assistance dollars are being held accountable by a state monitoring team.

"It always raises concern," said Lenola Wyatt Tutt, director of Tri-County Community Action Program.

"Issues of major concern" is how the director of the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs describes it in a stern letter to Tutt. A monitoring team found nine separate issues including missing documentation, missing inventory, missing invoices and missing information associated with the comprehensive energy assistance program.

"Some of our boxes were misplaced that had our folders and information that they requested," Tutt said.

Tutt says the records have been found following a move to new offices three weeks prior to the inspection. She says they've been turned over to the state.

Not as easy to correct are concerns about inaccurate contracts with heating and cooling contractors and lack of internal control.

If not corrected, the state will terminate a contract critical to thousands of poor, elderly and disabled people relying on energy assistance.

"We spent over $3 million last year and we helped over 10,000 people," said Brenda Allen, director of Tri-County.

Some are constituents of San Augustine Mayor Leroy Hughes, the energy program's board chair.

"It would be a big hindrance to all of our people," Hughes said.

Immediately, the state stopped shelling out lump sums of money to Tri-County. The agency must use its own money and ask for reimbursement. It's a get-tough measure from the state, Tutt is noticing.

"It's a notable change, but therefore, we're holding our people more accountable now," Tutt said.

A new compliance manager was hired just last week. An extensive monitoring and training plan outlined by the state of Texas will follow.

A spokesperson with the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs issued a response.

"As a result, it is premature to state the extent to which the matter is on its way to being resolved."

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