Advocates urge sustained weatherization funding
By Neal P. Goswami
VERMONT PRESS BUREAU | February 06,2014
MONTPELIER — The Legislature’s climate caucus and other advocates hope to find additional money to maintain level funding for the state’s Weatherization Assistance Programs and help more low-income families weatherize their homes.
Last year, weatherization programs received a total of $12 million. That funding helped the state move closer to its goal of weatherizing 80,000 homes by 2020, including 20,000 low-income homes.
Members of the climate caucus and other advocates said Wednesday that nearly 15,000 more low-income homes still need to be weatherized. That means about 2,000 homes per year at a cost of about $8,500 each must be completed, if the full $12 million allocated is spent. There is currently a waiting list of up to 22 months for some applicants.
But funding in the budget proposed by the Shumlin administration comes up about $2 million short of last year’s budget, said Hal Cohen, executive director of Central Vermont Community Action Council and vice president of the Vermont Community Action Partnership.
He said the additional funds from the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, better known as the stimulus bill, plus settlement money from the merger of Green Mountain Power and Central Vermont Public Service Corp., helped weatherization programs hit their stride.
“With those funds we’ve been able to ramp up our programs,” Cohen said. “We’ve been able to buy trucks, buy equipment, get the most sophisticated kinds of equipment and we now have 150 staff statewide doing weatherization. To keep at this current capacity we need to have a budget of $12 million.”
Vermonters are seeing a significant savings in energy costs because of the state’s weatherization efforts, according to Cohen.
“Weatherization is one of the best investments that we can make in Vermont,” he said. “For every dollar invested in weatherization, another $2.51 is returned to residents and the community.”
Rep. Mary Hooper, a Montpelier Democrat and co-chairwoman of the climate caucus, said more than 80 House members have signed on to a letter to House Speaker Shap Smith pledging to work together to maintain funding at $12 million for the 2015 fiscal year.
Meanwhile, more than 30 groups and advocates have signed on to a separate letter also supporting at least $12 million in weatherization program funding.
Most of the state funding for weatherization comes from a 0.5 percent tax on non-transportation fuels. Cohen said doubling that tax would raise about $8 million more.
But Rep. Tony Klein, chairman of the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee, urged his colleagues to “not pit program against program” and to find efficiencies in current programs to raise the additional $2 million to maintain level funding for weatherization efforts.
Department of Children and Families Commissioner David Yacovone said the administration has proposed a total of about $10.9 million in weatherization funding when federal funds are included.
“I guess we’re about a million short from where the advocates would like us to be,” he said.
Spending in previous years was augmented by the one-time stimulus and settlement funding, he said.
“Now that the one-time funds are gone, we’re back to our base budget again,” Yacovone said. “There are some that would like us to change the base budget, but we can’t include the one-time funds in that.”
Finding additional funding through efficiencies in other programs may also prove difficult, he said. Administration officials have already scoured budgets searching for savings, he said.
“We’ve gone over our programs very carefully in developing this budget and any efficiencies that could be leveraged have already been used,” Yacovone said.