Sullivan making headway in fixing HEAP mess

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Moon: “… they found no errors”

MONTICELLO – Based on details of what was going on last fall, things could not have gotten much worse with Sullivan County’s Home Energy Assistance Program, with reports of massive backlogs and long waits to process new applications.
Things are getting better, according to the man brought on board to straighten out the mess.  Deputy Health and Family Services Commissioner William Moon presented an overview of the problems and a generally optimistic assessment of where things are now, at Tuesday’s County Legislature Health and Family Services Committee meeting. 
Part of the improvement, Moon said, can be credited to input from a team from the office that administers the HEAP program in Albany.  The team spent three days recently, in Sullivan County.
“Their perspective is that Sullivan County in many ways has optimized the HEAP program in the sense that they found no errors, they didn’t find any cases being denied that shouldn’t have been,” Moon said.  “They didn’t find any mistakes in the work.”
At present, there is no backlog.  Moon said they have been current for about the last 10 days. 
There is more to be done, including having adequate and trained staff, a point of contention with Family Services Commissioner Randy Parker, who was put on administrative leave last month.  That was a point noted again on Tuesday by union representative Sandy Shaddock, who last month presented a long litany of problems that were happening in the early days of the current HEAP season.
Moon said those are issues that are being addressed.  Another problem is the current location, in Liberty, for handling the HEAP program.
“It is a disaster,” he said.
“We really need to get out into the community, especially into Monticello and other places where the major portion of our HEAP people are and give them a venue that they can come to instead of having to come to Liberty and go through the building there.  We need to do that as we reach out into the community.  There’s a variety of ways to do that.”
There are other ways of simplifying the process, said Moon, including letting clients take pictures of needed documents with their phones and emailing them, instead of having to bring them in person, or find a fax machine somewhere.
Legislature Chairman Scott Samuelson is pleased with the progress so far.
“I’m both astounded and thrilled to see that in a very short amount of time that there have been some things that have been identified to help make this a better system,” Samuelson said.  “I’m really kind of surprised that it’s taken this long.”
Committee Chairwoman Cindy Kurpil Gieger said it is a problem that should not be happening in Sullivan County.  She said she is also calling for “aggressive action” to create a county emergency shelter.




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