Maryland officials renewed a $332,000 contract Wednesday with a nonprofit that provides cheap cars to needy families, even as state Comptroller Peter Franchot deemed the original contract a "failure."
Vehicles for Change, the nonprofit vendor supplying the vehicles, delivered on just 16 of the 91 cars that the state's original contract was expected to provide last year. The state had allocated $302,575 to the program, of which just $41,462 was used.
The three-member Board of Public Works voiced concern over the nonprofit's performance, and suggested that the state consider another vendor if a second year-long contract doesn't result in substantially more vehicle donations. The board consists of Gov. Martin O'Malley, Treasurer Nancy Kopp and Franchot.
"I like the program but why should we support this at this point, given the performance?" Franchot asked Ted Dallas, secretary of Maryland Department of Human Resources, which operates the program. "I'm voting for it, but I hate to reward failure," Franchot added.
Dallas said the nonprofit had issues with the state's limitations on who could receive the cars, so the agency tweaked its eligibility policies.
Vehicles For Change marketing director Jen Harrington, in an interview with The Washington Examiner, attributed low demand for the program to the state's failure to sufficiently advertise it to potential clients. Harrington said the nonprofit has started reaching out directly to local human resources offices to spread the word on the program. She said she is confident the program will deliver on the 91 cars that the new contract is expected to finance.
To qualify for the cars, residents must be current or recent welfare recipients who work odd hours or have a job -- or bona-fide job offer -- that is inaccessible by public transportation, according to Brian Schleter, a spokesman for the Department of Human Resources.
Welfare recipients also can qualify if they have to travel more than three hours by bus to get to their workplace.
Kopp said she's surprised there isn't more demand for the cars and she questioned the department's decision last year to centralize the program, which was previously operated by local human resources offices.
Dallas said local offices were having a hard time finding quality cars that survived on the road longer than a couple of months. "We're hoping to do better next year," Dallas said.