Congress might cut weatherization program funding

Friday, September 22, 2006

A bill headed for the floor of the U.S. Senate later this fall could cut funding for a weatherization program managed by the Southeast Kansas Community Action Program that is headquartered in Girard, a SEK-CAP statement said.

Earlier this week, the Senate Appropriations Committee reported legislation that includes a 16 percent cut to the U.S. Department of Energy's $242 million Weatherization Assistance Program, a federal program that helps thousands of low-income families nationwide reduce their heating bills.

In the program, weatherization providers install energy efficient heating, cooling and electrical systems free of charge to qualifying low-income homeowners.

The local SEK-CAP program, which provides weatherization services to 10 counties in Southeast Kansas, is on target to improve energy efficiency in at least 191 homes by March 2007, but possible cuts in funding would reduce that number, the statement said.

"It's possible that we could see cuts," SEK-CAP Housing Director Craig Chronister said. "It's hard to predict. It could affect our ability to help families."

SEK-CAP receives about half of its funding for the weatherization program -- a little more than $310,000 -- from the U.S. Department of Energy, Chronister said. This money provides weatherization services for about 90 of those homes, and SEK-CAP receives other funding from the federal LEAP program that helps low-income families with winter heating costs, he said.

Local agencies in various areas also receive federal financial assistance but are allowed to run their own weatherization programs.

"Over the past five years, SEK-CAP has helped to lower the annual energy bills of 885 low-income households by 20 to 30 percent by weather-proofing older homes and improving the efficiency of heating and cooling systems and appliances," SEK-CAP Executive Director Steve Lohr said. "Our weatherization work force is on the front line of America's struggle for energy independence. If this weatherization cut is approved, I'm afraid we will be forced to turn away 15 to 20 working families and retirees of very modest means. The demand for the natural gas that we could have reduced by improving their homes and equipment will continue to drive up everyone's costs."

The average cost for providers to weatherize a single residence is about $2,800, according to the U.S. DOE Internet site.

SEK-CAP and the U.S. DOE have provided quality weatherization services for more than 30 years to allow these families to save money on energy bills and then use that savings to cover other important financial needs.

Using state-of-the-art technology, crews are trained to identify the most cost-effective measures that will produce the greatest energy savings, and homeowners can use those savings to purchase upgrades within a few years. SEK-CAP collaborates with local communities to weatherize homes that are scheduled for rehabilitation, the statement said. These partnerships increase the effectiveness of local, state and federal funding.

The federal weatherization program, which has provided weatherization services to more than 5 million low-income families during that 30-year period, provides funding for specialized training that keeps local projects like SEK-CAP at the forefront of national energy conservation strategies, the statement said.

A cut in funding for the weatherization programs would hurt communities nationwide, according to National Community Action Foundation Executive Director David Bradley. The NCAF is the Washington D.C. advocate for community action agencies like SEK-CAP that provide weatherization services to low-income homes.

"This year, the Weatherization Assistance Program is expected to help nearly 100,000 low-income Americans nationwide cut their heating bills by up to 30 percent, Bradley said. "By slashing program funding, an estimated 20,000 American low-wage workers and retirees on fixed incomes will lose access to these permanent improvements to lower their energy use."

The U.S. House of Representatives has approved a $12 million increase for the 2007 program year. In doing so, the House rejected President Bush's proposal to cut the program by 30 percent next year.

"When the bill comes before the full Senate, we urge Senators Sam Brownback and Pat Roberts to reject these proposed cuts and to provide at least the current funding level for this effective program," Lohr said. "Reducing energy use is the cheapest way for society to ease the demand for fuels that is driving up prices for all."

SEK-CAP offices in Pittsburg, Coffeyville, Girard and Fort Scott accept applications for the Weatherization Assistance Programs all year and services are delivered throughout their 10-county area based upon available funding.

For more information, contact the nearest SEK-CAP central office or the Girard office at (620) 724-8204, or visit the agency's Web site, www.sek-cap.com, for eligibility guidelines.

SEK-CAP is a non-profit organization created in 1966 to combat poverty. Visit www.energy.gov for more information about the federal Weatherization Assistance Programs.