A Step in the Wrong Direction
We welcome Frank Sabatino, Weatherization Programs Specialist of the Energy Partnership program to Poverty’s Edge. Frank worked at Community Action in the 1980’s and returned in 2000. His anti-poverty work began as a VISTA volunteer in 1969.
Here at Community Action, I have worked with programs that help individuals and families with low incomes meet their energy needs for more than 15 years. Every day during the cold months I get calls from people who range from young working mothers and fathers to senior citizens with little or no oil and too little money to buy more. Most of these callers have already exhausted their regular and emergency benefits through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), the federally funded program that assists with heating costs. Even after all this time I cringe imagining how worried and frightened they must be.
Next winter is going to be worse. The Senate proposal for the federal Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) in 2013 is $145,000,000. This is 36% lower than the funding in 2008, the last year before the huge, but temporary, increase under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009. According to the National Community Action Foundation (NCAF), funding below the 2008 level would make it difficult for local agencies to run WAP effectively.
Senators from both parties think that this level is too low. A notable example is Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine), who spoke of the benefits of weatherization for low-income families in the harsh Maine winters. Things are even worse in the House, where the proposal is only $54,000,000, a figure that is truly shocking.
I think the proposed deep cuts in WAP funding for 2013 would be very unwise for several reasons. In recent years more people than ever in this country struggle to pay for heat in the winter; weatherization helps their energy dollars go further. According to U.S. Department of Energy, weatherization saves an average of $437 in annual energy costs per home. That money makes a big difference for the people we serve at Community Action, especially when you consider that the LIHEAP emergency benefit paid for about 300 gallons of heating oil in the 1980s, but now pays for only about 100 gallons. And once a home has been weatherized the savings continue year after year.
Our society needs more skilled, socially useful jobs that pay a living wage; weatherization has an important role here as well. Weatherization has become increasingly technical in recent years. Auditors and workers need training, experience, and specialized equipment beyond that needed by a good home improvement contractor. Thousands of skilled weatherization workers were trained and employed through ARRA. When the amount of work available becomes too small it is hard for local agencies to maintain their best workers and small business subcontractors. We at Community Action pay close attention to productivity, quality control, and customer service, and think that drastic cuts in WAP funding would diminish our effectiveness.
Lastly, our society needs to reduce its use of fossil fuels for economic and environmental reasons; weatherization is an important part of the solution. More than 700,000 homes were weatherized with ARRA funding in three years, a figure well above the goal. Millions more have been weatherized with WAP funds over the past 30-plus years. The benefit to society as a whole is clear. Congress should find a way to sustain WAP at a reasonable level rather than gut it.
More information can be found on the NCAF website. Please consider contacting your legislators on this important issue:
Senator Pat Toomey: http://www.toomey.senate.gov/Senator
Charlie Dent: http://dent.house.gov/