Weatherize Your Home with Stimulus Bill Cash

Low-income families will be helped, but overall effect not electrifying

If you’re feeling all Earth-Day-ish, and want to weatherize your home, you soon may, courtesy of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), if your income amounts to less than $23,000.  

Wednesday in Austin, the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA) held the first public meeting to decide how to allocate Texas’ portion of $326,975,732 from the ARRA and to describe the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) for attendees.

The $326.9 million figure could be fairly described as a modest increase from the usual $6 million the state receives for the Texas Department of Energy program. Dallas County will receive $18,117,026 for its local program. 

The money will go toward providing minor home repairs that increase energy efficiency, such as installing insulation, caulking, and replacing heating and cooling units. 

Several benefits of the program are clear, although a growing number are inclined to believe the plan is fraught with hidden drawbacks.

“This is a unique opportunity for Texas to help a lot of low-income Texans, and it’s a significant amount of additional funds,” said Gordon Anderson, communications director for the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs. “We’ll be able to not only reach more people but invest more in each individual home, and the more money they’ll be able to save the more they’ll have for other needs and be less dependent on the government for other needs. We also all benefit when we use less of our energy.”

However, critics of the plan see a different side of things. 

“As far as whether it will save the taxpayers money, that’s not clear,” says Sterling Burnett, Ph.D., Senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis

He notes that relatively few people in Texas will be able to qualify for it with the incredibly low income cut off, while families in New Jersey can be earning significantly more, $35,000, or 274 percent of the poverty rate, and still qualify. 

“Quite frankly a lot of weatherproofing is routine maintenance, and lower-income homes are lower maintained so if they don’t change their weather filters and get their houses painted and they let grass grow around the AC, those things can be lost pretty quickly,” Burnett says. 

He also worries that the benefits will be short-lived for all of the jobs that are supposed to be created from the venture. WAP will increase funding for training people to work for the program from 10 percent - 20 percent, but when the money runs out employees will have skills but no jobs. 

“In the big scheme of things I don’t think it’s awful, I just think experience doesn’t show that it gives any long-term energy savings,” he adds. 

Holly LaFon is a Dallas journalist who has written and worked for various local publications including D Magazine and Examiner.

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