Bush Budget Puts Weatherization in the Cold

The $220 million federal program for low-income families reaped dividends in jobs and reduced energy bills.

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In light of the focus in Washington on doling out economic stimulus money, it is worth noting the money that the Bush administration is proposing to take out of low-income households this year by ending the 32-year-old federal weatherization program.

The just-released Department of Energy $25 billion budget plan, while increasing 4.7 percent over the current fiscal year, would zero out the $220 million program, which has been weatherizing about 100,000 homes across the country each year. The administration says the reason for the cut is to focus the agency's energy efficiency office "on its core mission of advanced energy efficiency and renewable energy [research and development]."

While future advances are vital, there's an energy affordability issue in a lot of homes in the present. The DOE's own research shows that low-income households are paying 13 percent of their income for energy (compared with less than 3 percent for the average U.S. household).

The state of Oregon recently did a study on the economic impact of weatherization and found that for every $1 spent on the program, weatherization returned $1.16 in economic dividends to the community, by increasing local jobs, reducing uncollectible utility bills, and improving the housing stock. In addition, and even more important, every $1 spent on weatherization saves $1.53 in energy bills.

Put another way, if the program spent $500 on improving a household's insulation, sealing holes in the wall and foundation, wrapping air ducts, and repairing an inefficient water heater, that would mean $765 in reduced energy bills for that home. Almost like getting a tax rebate! Except now imagine that that is how much money is being taken away from the families that are having the most trouble paying for energy.