August 25, 2010; Source: San Diego Union-Tribune | A San Diego nonprofit that has been spending some of its $2.7 million in stimulus funds to weatherize area homes is being accused of less than tight financial controls. Based on the results of an audit of Campesinos Unidos, the California Inspector General’s office is expanding its review to other groups that also received stimulus money so low-income residents could make their homes more energy efficient.
In its audit of Campesinos Unidos, the state watchdog agency found that because of such poor bookkeeping it’s not clear if the grant “has actually been spent or how well it has been spent.” Investigators also charge that some of the people doing the weatherization work weren’t properly trained and should immediately be pulled off any current jobs. That charge was disputed by Campesinos Unidos and community service officials.
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The nonprofit’s executive director, Jose Lopez, blames some of the problems uncovered in the audit on complex federal guidelines and unfamiliar forms. “Obama’s point was to get people to work and promote the economy,” Lopez said “That’s what we did . . . We’re learning along with the state.”
At least one observer says the problems with Campesinos Unidas were bound to occur from a program that put an emphasis on spending stimulus money quickly to help lift the country out of its recession and boost employment. John Ellwood, a professor of public policy at University of California Berkeley, told the San Diego Union Tribune that finding a balance between expedience and due diligence “is a constant trade-off” for grant recipients. Let’s hope that this problem in California doesn’t get any frostier before it’s resolved.—Bruce Trachtenberg