Home Improvement Programs to Change

A Seven-On-Your-Side investigation is leading to changes in the way a government grant program is administered here in Arkansas.

The USDA was not very cooperative as we worked to learn more about how home improvement grants and loans are awarded to poor, elderly Arkansas homeowners.

We also wanted to know how the contractors are picked.

Our initial Freedom of Information Act request was rejected.

We appealed and more than two years later we were provided with limited information.

And no one with the state's USDA office has been willing to do an interview with us.

That lack of cooperation is starting to change.

In early October when we visited the home of 82 year-old Ruby Pickens there were two USDA inspectors also visiting her home.

They were evaluating the job done by the contractor that Pickens had chosen off a list provided by the USDA.

Channel Seven's investigation into that list revealed that of the twenty contractors Pickens had to pick from, most lived more than 60 miles away.

Most were not licensed by the state.

Three were no longer in business.

Twowere dead.

On Tuesday USDA State Director Lawrence McCollough visited Ms. Pickens home to see for himself the job that was done.

He now agrees that the job was done poorly and has pledged to help Ms. Pickens get the job done to her satisfaction.

And, the USDA will no longer require homeowners who receive home improvement grants or loans to pick from a USDA provided list. A homeowner will be able to select any contractor, provided he is licensed by the state.

Director McCollough says he plans to hold a series of informational meetings for home improvement contractors who want to learn more about 504 grants and 502 loans.

Air date: November 21st, 2012