CEMA calls for replacement of New Haven anti-poverty agency head

Written on: February 21, 2018 by ICM

By Luther Turmelle, New Haven (CT) Register
The head of a group representing independent home heating oil dealers in Connecticut is calling on the chairwoman of the Community Action Agency of New Haven board of directors to replace the agency’s top executive amid concerns about the anti-poverty organization’s fiscal solvency.
Chris Herb, president of the Cromwell-based Connecticut Energy Marketers Association, is asking Evelise Ribeiro to immediately replace Amos Smith, who is CAANH’s chief executive officer. In an email he sent to Ribeiro Friday, Herb said his organization’s leadership “remains extremely concerned that CAANH’s current leadership and management will be unable to serve their customers in light of the recent events that saw them close their doors.”
Members of the home heating oil dealers trade group provides home heating oil to customers participating in the Connecticut Energy Assistance Program, which is administered by CAANH.
Herb said CEMA officials became concerned when the anti-poverty agency closed for one day earlier this month. The shutdown was the result of a cash-flow problem.
“We believe that your Board should replace Mr. Smith immediately, so that the agency can resolve their financial issues and reestablish the trust that has been lost in his ability to lead the organization and the execution of vital programs to the citizens of New Haven,” Herb told Ribeiro in the email. “I wanted to let you know that I will be sending a formal letter to DSS (Connecticut Department of Social Services) informing them of our request for Mr. Smith to step down.”
Ribeiro did not respond to requests from comment by the New Haven Register about Herb’s email. Smith decline to comment on the request that Herb made of the CAANH board.
“We’re open and we’re continuing to serve as many people as we can,” Smith said Tuesday.
Herb said the trade group had a problem with CAANH not paying some of its member oil dealers.
“We had 36 heating oil dealers who were owed $178,000 last spring for oil they had delivered,” Herb said. “We had to fight to get paid and even then, it was DSS paying us, not CAANH. One dealer told me he didn’t make a mortgage payment he was owed so much money by them.”
The money owed to the home heating oil dealers was eight months past due before DSS stepped in, he said.
David Dearborn, a spokesman for DSS, said the state agency paid $106,387 to the fuel vendors because CAANH was able to make partial payment that reduced the amount originally owed. CAANH is aware it has to repay those funds to DSS, Dearborn said.
Herb said CEMA’s board took a “no confidence” vote last September in Smith’s ability to lead CAANH. And he said CEMA isn’t alone in its concern about CAANH’s ability to run the program.
“The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services designated CAANH as an ‘agency in crisis’ in part because of their failure to pay heating fuel vendors with the restricted federal dollars that they were entrusted to use for the specific purpose of administering CEAP (Connecticut Energy Assistance Program),” Herb said.
Participants in the energy assistance program are the ones being hurt by what Herb termed “systemic problems at CAANH.”
“My concern is that dealers who have lost faith in the agency will stop participating in the CEAP,” he said. “They (the agency’s board) have done nothing to change the leadership there. If they don’t make a change, how can you expect a different outcome.”