LIPA electric meter (Sept. 28, 2009)

LIPA electric meter (Sept. 28, 2009) Credit: Newsday File / Kathy Kmonicek

How long does it take to give away $10 million?

Longer than you might think.

For the past eight months, the Long Island Power Authority and National Grid have been sifting through a list of nearly 30,000 seniors who applied for a low-income senior credit of $200. So far, they've processed just more than 19,000 claims.

What's the delay? LIPA says the process, for which it paid contractor National Grid $600,000, is "intensive," requiring two layers of vetting to sort the eligible from the ineligible. The process requires strict controls and an audit trail.

In a February letter to LIPA gadfly Rose Van Guilder, a retired real estate agent from Sayville who wanted to distribute the funds herself, LIPA acknowledged the payouts were "taking longer than initially expected."

But LIPA vice president of retail services Bruce Germano said that's because LIPA has to verify the income claims of all who apply. Up to a third of those who apply typically aren't eligible.

"It is critical that the appropriate amount of time be allowed in order to ensure that all applications are accurately reviewed and credits applied only to those meeting the eligibility criteria," he wrote to Van Guilder, after she complained to state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.

LIPA first announced the program in May 2008, but didn't formally kick it off until August. Credits were expected to be paid out in six to eight weeks.

After first announcing the program, LIPA asked for bids from outside companies to administer the payouts, then handed the work to National Grid because, it said, its longtime contractor could do it for the lowest cost.

In an e-mail Tuesday, LIPA spokeswoman Vanessa Baird-Streeter said National Grid's fee won't increase with the delay.

Meanwhile, applications keep coming. LIPA receives 75 to 100 new applications a week. A National Grid staff of 12 process 1,000 applications a week. The program ends Aug. 12.

The $10-million program was part of bundle of money LIPA received as part of National Grid's purchase of KeySpan in 2007.

At its current pace, it appears as though the program will only give away half of the allotted funds.

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