ILNews

Settlement funds to be used for utility bill assistance

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Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller announced Wednesday that funds from a multi-million dollar mortgage lending settlement will benefit low-income homeowners who need help with utility bills.  

House Bill 1141, signed by Gov. Mitch Daniels March 14, creates a fund for deposit of $28.8 million arising from a multistate settlement with five major mortgage lending banks. The banks – Ally, Bank of America, Citi, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo – were found to have engaged in unacceptable mortgage-servicing practices and foreclosure abuses.

“Low-income homeowners who were most at-risk to be foreclosed upon are also the most likely to have difficulty paying electric and gas bills and face disconnection,” Zoeller said. “The mortgage lending institutions that preyed upon borrowers and engaged in illegal practices are paying millions of dollars in settlement money to Indiana, and the Legislature wisely channeled this flow of dollars into a fund where at-risk homeowners can be helped.”

Eligible homeowners already qualify for the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Block Grant program or LIHEAP. The program is operated through community action agencies with outreach offices in every county. In 2011, Indiana’s LIHEAP provided 197,809 households with an average benefit of $420 each for assistance with utilities

Under the compromise version of HB 1141 that passed, the amount of state energy assistance created through the settlement will match the amount of 7 percent sales tax that LIHEAP recipients pay on their energy bills through that federal program. The dollars the state provides will offset the taxable amount, boosting funds available for low-income homeowners. That means more homeowners will be eligible for energy assistance, and those who qualify might qualify for larger amounts than they would have previously. Zoeller said the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority, administered by the Lieutenant Governor’s Office, will determine how the settlement funds will be distributed to help recipients.

 

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  2. Mr. Levin says that the BMV engaged in misconduct--that the BMV (or, rather, someone in the BMV) knew Indiana motorists were being overcharged fees but did nothing to correct the situation. Such misconduct, whether engaged in by one individual or by a group, is called theft (defined as knowingly or intentionally exerting unauthorized control over the property of another person with the intent to deprive the other person of the property's value or use). Theft is a crime in Indiana (as it still is in most of the civilized world). One wonders, then, why there have been no criminal prosecutions of BMV officials for this theft? Government misconduct doesn't occur in a vacuum. An individual who works for or oversees a government agency is responsible for the misconduct. In this instance, somebody (or somebodies) with the BMV, at some time, knew Indiana motorists were being overcharged. What's more, this person (or these people), even after having the error of their ways pointed out to them, did nothing to fix the problem. Instead, the overcharges continued. Thus, the taxpayers of Indiana are also on the hook for the millions of dollars in attorneys fees (for both sides; the BMV didn't see fit to avail itself of the services of a lawyer employed by the state government) that had to be spent in order to finally convince the BMV that stealing money from Indiana motorists was a bad thing. Given that the BMV official(s) responsible for this crime continued their misconduct, covered it up, and never did anything until the agency reached an agreeable settlement, it seems the statute of limitations for prosecuting these folks has not yet run. I hope our Attorney General is paying attention to this fiasco and is seriously considering prosecution. Indiana, the state that works . . . for thieves.

  3. I'm glad that attorney Carl Hayes, who represented the BMV in this case, is able to say that his client "is pleased to have resolved the issue". Everyone makes mistakes, even bureaucratic behemoths like Indiana's BMV. So to some extent we need to be forgiving of such mistakes. But when those mistakes are going to cost Indiana taxpayers millions of dollars to rectify (because neither plaintiff's counsel nor Mr. Hayes gave freely of their services, and the BMV, being a state-funded agency, relies on taxpayer dollars to pay these attorneys their fees), the agency doesn't have a right to feel "pleased to have resolved the issue". One is left wondering why the BMV feels so pleased with this resolution? The magnitude of the agency's overcharges might suggest to some that, perhaps, these errors were more than mere oversight. Could this be why the agency is so "pleased" with this resolution? Will Indiana motorists ever be assured that the culture of incompetence (if not worse) that the BMV seems to have fostered is no longer the status quo? Or will even more "overcharges" and lawsuits result? It's fairly obvious who is really "pleased to have resolved the issue", and it's not Indiana's taxpayers who are on the hook for the legal fees generated in these cases.

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