SOURCE ALLEGES BCAC WORKER FUDGED FUEL ASSISTANCE APPLICATION TO DENY BENEFITS; BCAC’S ATWATER DID NOT ‘UNCOVER ANYTHING THAT WOULD CAUSE ME TO LOOK FURTHER’
By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, AUG. 4, 2011) — THE PLANET recently received information from a source pertaining to possible wrongdoing in the issuance of federal fuel assistance as administered by Berkshire Community Action Council (BCAC).
We have made checks on the information, and while not uncovering definitive proof — which could only come from BCAC files — we have reason to believe the veracity of the information.
First, the allegations
* THE PLANET has heard there is an investigation under way into the fuel assistance program.
* Sources identify at least one investigatory agency as Berkshire Gas Company.
* Source information claims that a BCAC employee with access to records and ability to change went into the fuel assistance files and knowingly altered an application. Sources claim this was done to assure that the applicant for fuel assistance would be denied.
BCAC Director Atwater Contacted, Responds … sort of
THE PLANET contacted BCAC Executive Director Don Atwater Tuesday about the information. We heard back from him that evening via e-mail. Here’s what he wrote:
Obviously this is a serious accusation which I take seriously and will certainly investigate once I have specific details.
If you have specific information I can act on I will do so as soon as it is passed on to me. Thank you & I appreciate you contacting me!
The next day, Atwater called THE PLANET. We were unavailable, and he left a voice mail, asking us to call him or respond by e-mail. He did want to know if it actually was THE PLANET, and he indicated that he would take out return call or e-mail as proof that the initial inquiry was genuine. We called back yesterday and e-mailed last night, asking for more specific comments. We have yet to hear back.
Atwater’s statement is interesting. He doesn’t deny the charges, and he gives the impression that this is all new to him. He also conveys a willingness to look into the situation.
THE BCAC website says the agency was formed in 1966 as “the” anti-poverty agency for the Berkshires. It’s “primary purpose is to promote the well-being of low-income people in all the cities and towns of Berkshire County …
BCAC’s website explains the fuel-assistance program this way:
“Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program
Also known as the Fuel Assistance program, provides eligible households with help in paying winter heating bills. The program pays benefits up to a fixed amount based on household income. An additional benefit is available to eligible households having a higher than average energy burden. Homeowners & renters are both eligible. Households with incomes up to 200% of the federal poverty level are eligible.
Atwater further responded to THE PLANET today.
“From my discreet inquiry, I did not hear of, nor uncover anything that would cause me to further look into staff “changing an application” without the applicant’s knowledge,” Atwater said.
He further went on to describe the general security procedures of the electronic BCAC security system as it pertains to the fuel assistance program. He said “there are eight staff” who possess access to the system. He said that “all other staff have viewing rights only.”
Atwater did tell THE PLANET of an “annual appeal process” that any applicant may file if they think or believe “a mistake was made in the determination of their benefit.”
Atwater said he contacted Berkshire Gas. The BG representative said “there is no investigation of any type going on by the Berkshire Gas staff” in the fuel assistance program.
THE PLANET thanks Atwater for his cooperation.
Unless sources come forward with more specific information, we shall consider the affair honorably settled. We are satisfied on behalf of John and Jane Q. Public that the allegations do not, upon evidence thus far offered, stand up or warrant further inquiry.