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WAP program cuts lead to local layoffs

Monday, February 27, 2012

Seven Clinton County employees who assist low-income families with weatherizing their homes were laid off last week, the result of 2009 federal spending packages ending.

The Clinton County Community Action Program, which handles the majority of charity weatherization programs in Clinton and Clark counties, was forced to make the cut in cooperation with the legislative swing in Washington. Only three employees working with local weatherization remain in the Wilmington office.

The Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) enables low-income families to permanently reduce their energy bills by making their homes more energy efficient. The program offers insulation, weather stripping, and gas leak checks free of cost to those who qualify. A family of four, for example, has a threshold of $46,100.

The program has boosted throughout the last three years because of a federal bill aimed at providing economic development and energy efficiency.

In February 2009, Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 at the urging of President Obama, who signed it into law four days later. Its goals were to create jobs, spur economic activity and foster accountability.

Before the stimulus, Community Action budgeted about $880,000 per year for weatherization for Community Action in the two counties. But, between July 2009 and February 2012, that number soared to about $5.5 million. With that funding, the program weatherized about 750 homes, said Greg Smith, energy coordinator.

Families would have paid about $4,000 to a private contractor for the service, Smith estimated. Utility companies also supported the initiatives because families who received energy assistance were able to lower their usage.

But, a plan proposed by House Republicans in January cuts funds for many sustainability-related issues, including weatherization grants to the tune of $530 million. Ohio received about $89 million a year, but is now projected to receive about $10 million if the plan passes.

The U.S. Department of Energy allocated $12.6 million to Ohio in 2008 before the stimulus.

The “Spending Reduction Act of 2011” would cut government spending by $2.5 trillion over the next 10 years. It is proposed by members of the Republican Study Committee, chaired by Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan. The bill reduces current spending back to 2008 levels and would repeal $45 billion in unspent funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Smith said he saw it coming, and perhaps legislators didn’t realize how the consequences would trickle down. Instead, they just saw $5 billion to cut.

“That’s a lot of money. I get that,” he said, adding that he is disappointed the money was not spread out over 10 years.

“They said the stimulus didn’t work, but the proof is on the paper that it did work,” he said. “It created a lot of other things. My vendors and manufacturers had to step it up. Everything built up for a while.”

One vendor has already laid off five people independently, he said.

Previously, the organization’s funding was split between DOE and Health and Human Services, with DOE providing the majority. However, this year it “zeroed out,” Smith said. Even $900,000, similar to 2008 funding levels would allow the program to continue running, he said.

At this time, Smith has not been informed of specific 2012 numbers, meaning organizations around the state are “sitting in the dark.”

“We’ve heard rumors and it’s kind of scary,” he said. “Someone told me $68 million, from what was previously $290 million. That’s a huge cut. We’ll be running around here like a skeleton crew.”

Last Friday was the last day for the combined 11 people between Clark and Clinton counties laid off. Smith is hoping to be able to call a couple back for a few weeks to “give them a little bit of an income,” and confident that they learned new skills that will bring new job perspectives. But, spirits were fairly low last week in both counties.

“Down here, I’m sure they don’t know what they’re going to do,” he said. “Clark County people had some place to go, but down here they don’t. It’s back to the typical worries of working in Clinton County.”

Andrea L. Chaffin
wnewsj.com



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