US adds workers to handle forms for clunker deals
WASHINGTON - The Obama administration is tripling the number of workers processing Cash for Clunkers transactions as some dealers complain the government has been slow to reimburse them for the car incentives of up to $4,500 per vehicle.
An administration official said yesterday the Transportation Department hoped to have 1,100 public and private sector workers processing the vouchers by the end of the week, up from a workforce of about 350 through the end of last week.
Employees at a department service center in Oklahoma City have taken the lead in processing the vouchers, the official said, and workers have responded to calls for voluntary overtime to process the forms. The official was not authorized to discuss the issues publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Dealers have reported submitting tens of thousands of dollars worth of rebates to the federal government for repayment that are still outstanding. Many report they have been repaid for only a small fraction of the deals they made under the program, creating strain on cash flows at dealers nationwide.
Rick DeSilva, who owns Hyundai and Subaru dealerships in New Jersey, said an inspector from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which is overseeing the program, visited his offices yesterday to review his dealerships’ paperwork. Until now, none of the 70 Cash for Clunkers deals DeSilva made have been reimbursed.
“Every car that goes out, you are $4,000 behind the 8-ball,’’ said DeSilva, who is still owed about $280,000.
The National Automobile Dealers Association applauded the boost in staff reviewing the dealer claims. “Anything that will speed up the dealer reimbursement process is welcome news,’’ NADA spokesman Charles Cyrill said.
The government said yesterday that dealers have submitted requests for rebates that total $1.6 billion - more than half of the money provided to the program - through the online system set up to process and pay the claims. The program has led to more than 390,000 vehicle sales.
With the increased staffing, the government’s workforce is much larger than originally anticipated. A week before Cash for Clunkers formally began July 27, NHTSA estimated it would need just 30 new hires and 200 contractor workers to handle the program over a six-month period, according to the guidelines drafted by the agency.