Up to Congress Whether Weatherization Program Survives
The weatherization programs in Nebraska are federally funded to the State and then the State contracts with local private charities to operate the programs. The program helps those unable to afford the costs of insulating or otherwise improving their homes (often those on fixed incomes – disabled and elderly are priorities). The program replaces furnaces, if there is a health risk, insulates and checks for carbon monoxide and other harmful elements in homes, seals a home and ensures safe ventilation when needed. It is free to those of lower incomes.
With the temporary extension (until January 15, 2014) of the federal appropriations by Congress, the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) in the Blue Valley Community Action Partnership (BVCA) area has three months to live. At that time, the Congressional budget continuing resolution decimates the program. It may also keep in place the annual 5-8% across the board cuts. Last year it was 5%, this year it is said to be 8% for all but a few federal programs.
Because Congress passed a stimulus package for weatherization in 2009, they followed up by cutting the regular weatherization budget by 66% in 2012. At the time, there was still stimulus money available. Unfortunately, the stimulus funds ended in 2012, so the weatherization program is only a fraction of what it once was. At Blue Valley Community Action, who operates the program under contract with the Nebraska Energy Office for this area, the cuts are fatal. The program requires a job write-up by a staff member or contractor, a crew or contractors to do the actual installation work and an individual to inspect the work, who is not those doing the write-up or installation. With these cuts, at Blue Valley Community Action that means we have three staff and one contractor to do all of this, which is down from twelve staff at the end of last year. At BVCA, our contract for 2013-2014 totals roughly $37,000 for the year – to pay for three staff, a contractor and materials, not to mention costs to get to the many homes of folks living in poorly insulated or sometimes unsafe homes. Even if we paid minimum wages we could not do what is required for a year.
Blue Valley Community Action Partnership is a local community partner and recognizes the need to restrain federal spending, but while most federal programs are asked to cut 5-8% each year, the Weatherization Assistance Program is being asked to cut 66% and then another 8% on top of that. I hope the Nebraska delegation to Washington can restore some of the Weatherization Assistance Program funding so that helping seniors and disabled lower income families can continue in this area. Congressman Fortenberry, Congressman Smith, Senator Johanns and Senator Fischer you are the representatives in Washington covering the Blue Valley area of Nebraska. Please hear our pleas for reasonableness. We want to do our part to improve our communities and are also willing to do what we can to keep costs down, but common sense tells us we cannot do it on pennies. When the 2014 federal fiscal year (October 2013 –September 30, 2014) budget is passed, whenever that happens, please restore enough of this valuable program so that the Weatherization Assistance Program can continue in this part of Nebraska as a year round program.
Rick Nation, CEO
Blue Valley Community Action Partnership