The program provides help for poor families with heating bills and supplies. State officials are considering a change to one part of the program -- furnace repair and replacement -- that would require county departments of social services to get quotes from every local furnace vendor before fixing a family's faulty unit.
Making such a change could delay the fixing or replacing of furnaces for families with children waiting in cold houses. And the change could increase the cost of the program, even though it is meant to cut costs.
People who know it will be a hassle of paperwork and delays to get their furnace fixed will be more likely to ignore a poorly functioning furnace, which could create a dangerous situation and lead to a higher repair cost when the unit is finally fixed. While families whose furnaces have broken down are waiting for repairs, their pipes could freeze, damaging their houses and resulting in even greater costs.
We understand state officials are trying to avoid corruption in awarding the program's contracts statewide. But the solution they've come up with will cause the very things -- delays, expense -- they're trying to prevent.
Numerous counties across the state contract for the furnace service with an economic opportunity council, which administers a federal weatherization program. If state officials want to change the repair and replacement program, why not require counties to handle it like other public contracts, by putting out specifications, taking bids and awarding the work, for the season, to the lowest qualified bidder?
We appreciate the aggressiveness of the Cuomo administration in fighting corruption. But if your replacement for a system that can be corrupted is one so burdened by rules and paperwork, it becomes inefficient, you haven't improved anything.
How long would it take to get quotes, and compare them, from every local furnace vendor every time someone in the program needs a repair? Winter might be over before the furnace is fixed.
We can imagine situations in which families would be forced out of their unheated homes, and counties would have to pay to house them in motels, while every vendor in the county was contacted for a furnace repair estimate.
Practicality must balance accountability in programs like this one. The work must not only get done well, but quickly.
We're sure the Cuomo administration can come up with a compromise to counteract corruption and keep needy families warm as well.
-- The Glens Falls Post-Star