I'm writing in response to all the editorials and negative comments made since the release of the Office of Inspector General's (OIG) report on the West Virginia Weatherization Assistance Program (WVWAP).
It has been my pleasure and honor to have been associated with this program for over 30 years. I started as a crew supervisor for a local community action agency and worked my way through the ranks to finish as the manager of monitoring activities for the Governor's Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO). I have visited every county, city, town and have been up most hollows in this state while doing my job.
It would be easy to remain silent and let this story "blow over" or wait until the next big news story knocks it off the headline. However, the weatherization program has been unfairly demonized. Many of the fine people who work for it across the state every day have been maligned. It is easy to be part of a mob and join the chorus attacking a "big government" program as wasteful and in need of elimination in these hard economic times. In fact, this program saves $3 for every $1 invested. It also employs over 250 full time people across this state.
While we're taking about cutting the program, let's think for a minute who this will directly effect. Besides the loss of jobs in many communities that can ill afford the loss of any employment, it will mean that low-income residents will not have their homes "weatherized." There is approximately a four-year waiting list. This will mean many will not be able to afford their utility bills (winter or summer). They will have less income for such necessities as food and medicine. Before people start applying stereotypes to this segment of our community let's make a few things clear. The majority of people served are elderly, handicapped or households of the "working poor," many with children under the ages of 17. What politician is going to advocate for them once this program has been killed? Where will they go for help?
The people who worked at OEO during the time of OIG's inspection worked hard to uncover most of the findings cited in OIG's report. This group of state employees put in many hours, days and weeks away from theirs homes and loved ones, and reported their findings to their supervisors. This same staff was discouraged by members of the previous and current administration from bringing these problems to light since it may make higher-ups look bad. The previous director of OEO left clear orders for the staff to cooperate fully with all OIG personnel and their requests for information. This I believe was part of her downfall.
I doubt that there will be any public defense of this noble and much needed program from the current residents of OEO or the state house or any legislators who should know better since many of their constituents who live in the counties and communities they profess to represent need this service.
I want to mention the army of men and women who work tirelessly every work day, year round in all kinds of weather to serve their clients. They load up their trucks and travel on all types of roads to reach their clients homes. Most work 10-hour days. Many people are surprised to learn they work in snow, rain and heat to accomplish their goals. I've never been associated with finer people than these tireless workers who deserve much more praise and pay for that matter. There was some criticism about a few workers having weatherization done to their homes. Rest assured they were eligible for this service. The work done was determined by a computerized energy audit and they did not receive anything that could not be justified by a strict standard applied to all client's homes.
The previous weatherization director was unfairly criticized and this is unfortunate since he was most likely the most dedicated director we have ever had. He put in many hours creating most of the tracking forms used by the program today and respected across this nation for his knowledge, caring and ability.
In closing, it seems ironic that when politicians expound from their soap boxes that they wish to create good paying jobs for this state their very actions are just the opposite and have the effect of driving highly skilled talented people out of the state, every day. I believe that anyone who works for any of the "extraction" industries are favored. So before you criticized the weatherization program, why not try to find out about it first hand and visit your local community action agency, or watch for times when they hold open house demos, but be aware if you want to see a crew you will have to get up pretty early since their work day starts long before most people wake up.