The government stimulus package
included billions of new dollars
for home weatherization programs.
The money is used to help low income
folks make their homes more energy
efficient. But some critics say
it’s not a good use of federal tax
dollars. Julie Grant reports:
The government stimulus package included billions of new dollars for home weatherization programs. The money is used to help low income folks make their homes more energy efficient. But some critics say it’s not a good use of federal tax dollars. Julie Grant reports:
Chris Graham spends his days checking the energy efficiency of people’s homes.
Today he’s at Sandra Richards’ in Mogodore, Ohio.
Graham: “Hi Sandra.”
Sandra: “How are ya?”
Graham: “Wonderful. And you?”
Sandra is 55. Her house is clean and neat. She was a nurse for many years, but today she’s sitting on the couch, watching TV. A broken foot spiraled into problems with her knee and hip – and other health problems.
“I mean I’ve just had so many things go on in such a little time. I was working 12 hour days, and one month later, I couldn’t work at all.”
Sandra qualified for the home weatherization program because she doesn’t have much in the way of income anymore.
Chris Graham says he’s been to a lot of homes where people are far worse off. They can’t get around, they don’t have money coming in, and their houses get cold in the winter.
Graham heads to the basement.
“The first thing we have to make sure is that the heating unit is not in terrible, dilapidated shape. And that it does not have more than a specified amount of carbon monoxide in the flu gasses.”
He turns on the furnace and sticks a probe into the flu pipe.
(sound of a tester)
Grant: “Looks like a receipt came out.”
Graham: “It kind of is. It tells you exactly what was going on there.”
Looks like Sandra’s furnace is running pretty well. 81% efficiency.
But Graham sees evidence of carbon monoxide on her old water heater.
“It’s 17 years old and it just plain needs changed. It’s got burnt, scorch all over it. So we’re gonna do that.”
That could cost more than $1,000.
But the home weatherization program can afford it these days. The stimulus packaged included $5-billion for this kind of work – compared with less than a quarter of a billion dollars last year. The new money has to be spent within two years.
And some people think that’s just too much money – too fast. Leslie Paige is with a taxpayer watchdog group called Citizens Against Government Waste.
“There’s always a lot of waste in government spending anyway, but when you spend it quickly and there’s very little oversight, that’s almost a prescription for seeing a lot of that money go for waste and fraud and losing to abuse.”
That kind of criticism is shocking to David Shea. He’s director the Community Action Council of Portage County, Ohio – the organization that hires inspector Chris Graham.
The weatherization program has been around since 1976 and Shea says they have to report their spending in about a hundred different ways.
“It’s not like money is being thrown out at agencies and just say, ‘oh go out and do it.’ There are volumes and volumes of written regulations that have been around for a long time. We do so much sophisticated reporting; they know how every dollar is being spent. Always. Always.”
Shea’s office used to have one crew out weatherizing homes around the county. Since the stimulus money’s come in, he’s hired a second crew. But there are so many people wanting their services, the waiting list is still years long.
(sound of a fan)
Back at Sandra Richards’ house, inspector Chris Graham has sized a big fan into the front door. He’s depressurizing the house – so he can see where air is escaping. Graham says she’s going to need some doors sealed and new insulation in the attic.
He says Sandra will feel more comfortable, so she won’t need to turn up the heat in the winter. That means she’ll save on energy costs, and will use less fossil fuels.
That’s the whole idea of this project – to use less energy in the future, and to help millions of families that couldn’t afford to improve things on their own.
For The Environment Report, I’m Julie Grant.