Duluth software company tackles stimulus hassles
A lot of caulking and insulating is going on, thanks to massive stimulus funding boosts to weatherization programs across the country. But the paperwork is a killer. "It is very labor- intensive," said Anna Kessler, a labor compliance consultant ...
A lot of caulking and insulating is going on, thanks to massive stimulus funding boosts to weatherization programs across the country.
But the paperwork is a killer.
"It is very labor-
intensive," said Anna Kessler, a labor compliance consultant who works with agencies in Michigan. "This is new to the agencies. It is new to the weatherization world. They've never been subjected to it before."
Without Web-based software to swiftly funnel information into the required weekly itemized reports, agency workers are left to do it the old-fashioned way.
"Everybody is doing it by hand, manually, with pencil and paper," said Amanda Allard-Korell, marketing manager for Points North, a software development firm in Duluth.
Do it incorrectly, and the agencies face possible penalties or funding loss.
The solution for hundreds of agencies across the country struggling with the complex reports, can be found in Duluth, Allard-Korell said.
Points North has Certified Payroll Reporting, software that produces the required payroll reports when the data are entered.
"We already had the product," said John Foucault, company president and chief executive officer. "It was a natural fit for federal stimulus projects."
While the firm faces competition, no one else is eliminating the paperwork, he said.
That paperwork is part of the greater accountability being applied for the first time to the low income Weatherization Assistance Program.
The funding bonanza under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is unprecedented. The U.S. Department of Energy has pumped $5 billion into the state-run assistance programs, compared with the typical $250 million. The money is divvied up among the states, and then distributed to local agencies that work with low-income homeowners to reduce home energy costs.
The Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Agency, which administers the program in Lake, Cook and St. Louis counties, is getting a total of $8.7 million, which will allow it to weatherize about
In Duluth alone, the budget has grown by $3.5 million, compared with about $700,000 last year. That means 600 homes -- compared with 150 homes last year -- will get weather stripping, duct sealing and other energy upgrades in a 15-month period, according to Martin Lepak, the agency's weatherization manager.
But all that funding comes with strings attached: greater accountability and scrutiny. Under the Depression-era Davis-Bacon Act, agencies must meet stringent reporting requirements to ensure the money is spent correctly and workers are paid prevailing wages.
Without software to do it, the reports are time-consuming and confusing.
"The Department of Labor estimates it will take over an hour to do it by hand each week for a project," Allard-Korell said. "Our system has it down to five or 10 minutes."
So far, the state of New Jersey is on board. Its 22 community agencies doing weatherization will soon start using the software.
Points North has teamed with National Weatherization Corp. in Washington, D.C., which is responsible for compliance in New Jersey.
National Weatherization Chairman Steven Cote called Points North software a "breakthrough" that provides the needed technological infrastructure.
"Without it, the level of transparency and accountability required by the president would be impossible," he said
Points North is courting other states, Allard-Korell said.
"We believe it will be adopted by other states," Cote said of the software. "Our hope and intent is that it will be mandated on the federal level. That's our business intent."