BY the time it was over, the state spent $24 million on a car-leasing program intended to provide welfare recipients with a way to work. But only 2,230 people out of the 2,900 who received cars ended up with permanent titles to the vehicles. That works out to more than $10,000 per title, and the cars were worth only about $2,300.As reporters Eric Eyre and Scott Finn pointed out, the state spent enough to buy a brand-new car for each person instead.That would have been bad enough if the cars were reliable. But the vehicles broke down, caught fire and were missing seat belts. Welfare recipients, who needed the cars to reach jobs to work their way off of welfare, were left paying for vehicles that did not run.Four nonprofit groups received state and federal welfare money to administer this program. The biggest is the Human Resources Development Foundation, a Morgantown-based offshoot of the AFL-CIO.
Now the state Department of Health and Human Resources, which administers welfare money, is investigating. So are the Commission on Special Investigations, the Tax Department, the legislative auditor and the Division of Motor Vehicles.Fred Boothe, commissioner of DHHR's Bureau for Children and Families, has expressed his wish for a speedy investigation. So has Homer Kincaid, director of HRDF. His agency has a lot riding on the outcome. The state gave Kincaid's agency another $1 million contract to run a donated-car program, even though his agency has no experience with such programs and has such a dismal record with the now-ended leasing program.Kincaid has complained that all the negative attention is hampering HRDF's ability to carry out the new contract. HRDF was supposed to give out 60 cars to needy people by the end of December. By last week, the agency had collected only six cars and given away none.That's too bad. The public, including welfare recipients, deserves a thorough investigation.Badly managed programs like this can give all social efforts a bad reputation. It's just the sort of excuse mean-spirited people need to cut help for struggling parents, who, with help and a job, are eager to provide for their families and quit collecting welfare checks.