City auditors say housing department hasn't explained nearly $6 million in questionable payments

Auditors: Housing has yet to resolve $5.8 million of $6.2 million in questionable payments for energy bills.

Baltimore auditors say city Housing Commissioner Paul T. Graziano has yet to explain nearly $6 million in questionable payments of federal grant money meant to help poor families with their energy bills.

Last spring, City Auditor Robert L. McCarty, who reports to Comptroller Joan M. Pratt, found "widespread discrepancies" in the handling of energy assistance grants by Graziano's agency.

McCarty said Baltimore Housing approved $6.2 million in questionable payments, including grants to three dozen households that aren't even in the city. More than $5.8 million in questionable expenses remains unresolved, the auditors said this week.

Auditors said Graziano's agency could supply no documentation for one in five of the cases sampled in the audit, and the files that were available often had missing or incorrect information. In nearly three dozen cases, the housing agency signed off on paying the same energy bill twice, auditors said.

Graziano told the Board of Estimates in October that he was addressing the auditors' concerns. But city auditors wrote this week in documents submitted to the board that Graziano had resolved only a portion of the issues.

McCarty will present his findings to the city's spending panel, which is controlled by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, on Wednesday.

Graziano has blamed the missing files on "a flooding incident" in a room where the records were stored. He also told the spending panel that the state has no rules against the city's awarding grants to county residents, and argued that the auditors are overstating the amount of inappropriately spent grants.

"It would be inaccurate to extrapolate the questioned cost to the magnitude of $6.2 million without a thorough review of each and every applicant in the program," housing officials argued in documents submitted to the board.

The federal energy assistance funds are used to pay Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. or a heating oil supplier on behalf of households, after municipal officials have reviewed residents' applications for help with utility bills. Payments range from nearly $100 to $1,710.

The program helped nearly 118,000 households statewide in the last fiscal year. City officials say they process more than 40,000 applications a year.

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