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CAA gets high marks for county home weatherization efforts

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

LISBON - In late November, the state inspector general issued a report critical of Ohio's efforts to monitor the expenditure of $267 million in federal stimulus money provided for home weatherization projects.

But local home weatherization efforts undertaken with stimulus money appear to have exceeded program monitoring requirements, and the inspections resulted in few recommendations for corrective action, according to a review of the report and other documentation.

Of the 470 local weatherization projects funded with $3.14 million in stimulus money, 57 projects were inspected, or 12 percent, more than double the 5 percent minimum required by federal program rules. Also, of the 57 inspections performed, corrective actions were recommended or ordered in only two of the cases.

"We came out looking pretty good," said Tom Calhoun of the Corporation of Appalachian Development (COAD), a consortium of 17 Ohio community action agencies located in Appalachian counties.

The local recipient of the stimulus funding was the Community Action Agency of Columbiana County (CAA), which is part of the consortium. COAD managed the stimulus weatherization program for members.

The CAA normally receives about $400,000 annually in federal funding for its weatherization program, but the stimulus bill approved by Congress in early 2009 increased the allocation over the next two years to $2.25 million. The CAA was so quick to expand its weatherization program that the agency was able to receive another $900,000 in stimulus money and expand the number of projects.

"We were way ahead of everyone," said Ruth Allison, community services director for the CAA. "We just didn't sit on the money like some did."

The state inspector general launched his investigation in March 2010, two days after the Columbus Dispatch reported 20 nonprofit agencies such as the CAA that received stimulus weatherization funding failed more than half of their inspections, and few of the agencies met the requirement of having at least 5 percent of the projects inspected. Most of the inspection issues appeared to have occurred with recipients that served urban areas.

In addition to project inspections, the state also reviewed program paperwork. One inspection of the CAA found several instances where expenses were billed to the wrong fund and others where the required paperwork had not been completed.

Weatherization program funding was available to households at or below 200 percent of the federal level, which is about $44,000 for a family of four. While most of the efforts involved insulation, eligible households could receive a new furnace or other energy-saving improvements.

COAD's Calhoun was not surprised at the CAA's performance, calling the agency "probably our star performer."

"The stimulus act in some ways was a bad word, but in our region it did what it was supposed to do" by employing people and saving participating households an average of $300 per year on their heating/electricity bills, he said.

The CAA employed 10-12 people in its weatherization program, a number that increased to 32 with the addition of the stimulus funding. Allison said they are back to three four-person crews.

CAA Director Carol Bretz said the stimulus money temporarily created good-paying jobs during that two-year period. "The majority of the new hires were unemployed and many of them had run out of unemployment benefits, so these jobs meant a lot to them," she said.

Tom Giambroni