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Weatherization program helps low-income homeowners

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

For about a year, Dauhn Minus has been struggling to pay her utilities bill, which, at times, she said runs well over $300.

"That's a lot of money for an electric bill," said the 52-year-old West Palm Beach resident.

Since Minus, a former medical bill collector, has been out of work for three years, her family has chipped in to help out. Minus' husband, an operating room aide at Columbia Hospital in West Palm Beach, has seen his hours cut, making it even tougher for the couple to pay their bills.

The main reason their Florida Power & Light bill is so high - Minus said it averages $265 each month - is because the air conditioning unit is 15 years old and working overtime to cool their two-bedroom, 1,000-square-foot home. But it can't do the job properly since Minus' home wasn't energy efficient.

"I would have my AC on at 70 degrees, but it was reading 85 degrees in my house," Minus said. "I was burning up."

Minus was a perfect candidate for the Weatherization Assistance Program. Paid for by the U.S. Department of Energy and offered through the Florida Department of Community Affairs, the program helps low-income families reduce their energy bills by as much as 30 percent by making their homes more energy efficient.

Among the services the program offers are installation of solar window screens, sealing and insulating ducts, replacing inefficient refrigerators and repairing or upgrading heating and cooling systems.

Preference is given to single-family homes, those 60 and over, physically disabled residents, families with children under 12 and households that have repeatedly high utility bills.

There are income requirements as well. A family of one can't earn more than $21,780. The maximum income for a six-person household is $59,980.

Since January 2010, the program, administered by the Indiantown Non-Profit Housing, has provided assistance for 424 homes in Palm Beach County, said Donna Carman, the group's executive director.

From 2004-2009, when the program had less money to work with, it served 200 county homes. After the program received federal stimulus money under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Carman said its dollars jumped from $300,000 to $3 million.

"That stimulus funding had a tremendous impact," Carman said.

That money enabled the program to work on about 50 homes each week while spending about $6,500 on each home.

But with the stimulus money going away next year, the program may disappear as well.

"We may get an extension, but no one really knows for sure," Carman said.

Sometimes people get confused about what the program actually does.

"This is not a rehab program,' Carman said. "We don't have enough money to rehab or renovate a home. It's only meant to help people conserve on their energy costs. It can be heartbreaking going into the field and seeing folks who need more than what we can provide."

Minus said she heard about the program from her sister and applied immediately. She said she got a response in about a week.

"I applied in July and within two weeks they were here assessing what I needed," Minus said. "They didn't waste any time."

Minus said she received solar panels on 14 of her 21 windows as well as energy efficient water faucets, attic insulation and a brand new air conditioning unit.

"I can stand in the middle of the room and feel the AC now," Minus said, adding she expects to reduce her bill by 50 percent.

Those are the kinds of stories Carman likes to hear.

"Some people have to decide if they're going to pay their energy bill or if they're going to buy food or medication," Carman said. "It's very difficult for people on a fixed income to survive this day and age."

For more information on the program, visit or call (877) 212-0309.

Kevin D. Thompson
Palm Beach Post News