R. Reese Fuller

Road Home usually wrong in appeals

by R. Reese Fuller

Applicants to the Road Home program learned recently that the program intended to collect on overpayments to more than 350 applicants. In an editorial yesterday, The Times-Picayune wrote that ICF International, the contractor administering the program, should have nothing to do with the process and that the Louisiana Recovery Authority's Executive Director Paul Rainwater should make good on having a government panel review the alleged cases of overpayment:

So far ICF does not seem to share Mr. Rainwater's commitment to resolving cases in which applicants were underpaid. The company was looking for a firm to go after people who were overpaid, but not a counterpart to look into underpayments. And the notice to firms interested in collecting overpayments also said ICF may end up paying based on the amounts collected -- a sure incentive for collectors to let the hounds loose on applicants.

If ICF was truly interested in addressing underpayments and other complaints by applicants, the firm would have long made good on its contractual obligation to create an independent ombudsman to advocate for applicants. Instead, the Road Home recently revamped its customer service process, and the state said that would satisfy the ombudsman requirement.

Today, The Time-Pic reports that the Road Home has reviewed 8,770 appeals from homeowners and that decisions have been made on more than half of them. The program has determined that it has been wrong 58 percent of the time in calculating payments or in determining eligibility for the program, that 43 percent of applicants deserved more money, 8 percent should have been deemed eligible, and only 7 percent received too much money. And while much has been made about the estimated $5.4 million overpaid to applicants (some 360 applicants at about $15,000 each), the Road Home is facing an additional $51.4 million in payments to those who should have been paid more, nearly 2,100 applicants for an average of $23,726.

Read "Road Home appeals fruitful."