Warfield: Weatherization Is Effective Investment

Posted June 19, 2012 at 3:00pm

The Weatherization Assistance Program employs workers in every state and county in America and has weatherized more than 7.1 million homes over the past 35 years. Weatherization has proved its value and is a highly successful and effective investment in the American workforce — weatherization improvements funded by the 2009 stimulus law alone created 14,000 new jobs, according to the White House Recovery.gov website.

Weatherization reduces household energy use by almost 35 percent in the typical weatherized home, allowing families to use their limited funds for other necessities. The reduction in energy demand also reduces our nation’s reliance on foreign oil.

The success of a program that brings the threefold benefit of jobs, household savings and energy conservation is a powerful argument to sustain and fully fund the program, yet it still has its opponents on Capitol Hill, where two Republican House Members have introduced bills to abolish it.

Unfortunately, much of the information that has been presented as an argument to cut funding is a disingenuous misrepresentation of facts. Opponents have created the false impression that remaining stimulus funds will allow the program to serve just as many households in 2013 as it did before the program expansion under the 2009 law. This misstatement occurred again during floor debate recently on the House Energy and water development appropriations bill.

The argument about “available funds” would seem to demonstrate that the Weatherization Assistance Program can absorb proposed cuts and still maintain services at a fiscal 2010 level. This characterization is entirely wrong.

Program opponents in the House are taking advantage of the confusion that arises because the “program year” is not the same as the federal fiscal year. The program year was set later in the year at the Weatherization Assistance Program’s inception so it wouldn’t suffer the disruptive and costly effects of funding gaps that might result from prolonged federal budget negotiations.

In most states, the new program year begins in April, and by that time almost all stimulus funding will be spent. Nominal amounts will remain in three states, but in the vast majority the “available funds” that program opponents propose to use for the 2013 program year will already be used up. Additionally, regular appropriations are similarly depleted, with the $68 million provided for 2012 being far below a sustainable level. States have already begun slowing down operations and eliminating jobs.

The funding levels debated on the Hill threaten the nationwide network and many states will be hard pressed to operate a program at all in fiscal 2013.

For example, at the $54 million level in the House-passed bill, Arizona, Hawaii and Delaware could weatherize about a dozen homes each in 2013, effectively forcing them to halt services.

The ripple effect will disperse a well-trained workforce, reduce purchases from vendors that provide supplies, leave the government investment in equipment and vehicles unused, and leave many families to struggle financially because of high utility bills.

Rather than dismantling a beneficial and cost-effective operation that has been successful for 35 years, Congress should allocate funds to sustain the program at its true pre-stimulus level of $220 million to $240 million.

We are mindful of the difficult budget choices that face Congress, but these choices should be made based on facts. The facts show that the Weatherization Assistance Program performs a vital role in reducing the burden of high energy prices on low-income families.

The program creates jobs and strengthens the economy through the purchase of materials and equipment from the private sector. Each dollar is multiplied as it flows through our communities.

Congress must restore the program to pre-stimulus levels to maintain an effective commitment to weatherization, maintain the trained workforce and provide a much-needed economic boost to a fragile economy. Don’t allow distortions of the facts to put the truly effective 35-year effort that is the Weatherization Assistance Program in peril.

Tim Warfield is executive director of the National Association for State Community Services Programs.