Stimulus energy aid found to favor cold regions

A huge boost in federal funds to help low-income families weatherize their homes provides more than $3 on average in the coldest states for every $1 given to warm-weather states, an analysis of the aid program shows — even though exposure to extreme heat and cold are both health risks.

“People think weatherization is only for cold weather,” says James Miller, spokesman for the Florida Department of Community Affairs. “The heat is just as dangerous as the cold.”

President Obama’s economic stimulus plan provides $5 billion for weatherization, more than 20 times the normal yearly budget. The 33-year-old program began as a way to conserve heating fuel. It still favors northern climates, despite efforts to provide more money for Southern states in recent years.

Consider Florida and Minnesota. Their energy costs and consumption per resident are about the same. Minnesota gets $110.40. for each eligible person, compared withjust $31.50 for Florida.

“We’re not trying to say that Southern states shouldn’t receive this type of assistance,” says John Schadl, communications director for Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn. “But when it’s 20 or 30 below and your heat goes out, you die.”

The U.S. Department of Energy favors more funds for cold climates because the nation’s consumers spend 14% more on heating than on cooling.

The department “is studying the formula to make sure there is an appropriate balance between warm- and cold-weather states,” says spokeswoman Chris Kielich. “But there is so much money out there from the stimulus that if someone gets in the queue, it’s a good chance they’ll get weatherization.”

Any change in the formula would have to be approved by Congress.

The money goes toward everything from caulking windows and doors to energy-efficient heating and cooling systems. Generally, it flows to local non-profit organizations that contract out much of the work.

Eligibility under the stimulus plan applies to households making up to twice the U.S. poverty threshold. For a family of four, eligibility would cover those making up to $44,100.

The maximum benefit per household is $6,500.

The need for help in Florida is growing, according to the Central Florida Community Action Agency. The non-profit, which serves three counties, typically weatherizes about 20 homes a year, leaving up to 60 on a waiting list. Factoring in stimulus money, it may be able to upgrade more than 200 homes, says weatherization director Mark Taylor.

Harold Chick waited eight months for help with his double-wide mobile home in Ocala, Fla. Most of his $300 monthly power bill went to run an outdated air conditioner 24 hours a day. But cool air seeped out leaky windows and a hole in the floor so large that a cat once crawled through it.

In April, Taylor’s group replaced doors and windows, repaired the floor and installed an energy-efficient air conditioner.

Chick, 67, is disabled and lives on a fixed income with two daughters and a 9-month-old grandson. A more comfortable temperature has helped his 16-year-old daughter, who is recovering from treatment for inoperable tumors.

Without the help, Chick says, “we could never afford to do this.”

Here is a list of the top 10 states to receive stimulus funding for the federal low-income weatherization program, ranked by funds per eligible person. The top 10 states, all in the North, average $103 per eligible person, compared with $29 in the bottom 10 states, most of them in the southern half of the USA.

State Weatherization Funds Funds per eligible person
North Dakota $25,266,330 $138.30
Alaska $18,142,580 $113.50
Minnesota $131,937,411 $110.40
Maine $41,935,015 $106.10
Vermont $16,842,576 $103.60
South Dakota $24,487,296 $99.10
Iowa $80,834,411 $98.90
Wisconsin $141,502,133 $96.90
Connecticut $64,310,502 $96.60
New Hampshire $23,218,594 $95.60

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