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Applicants encouraged for weatherization assistance

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Applications for weatherization are slowing down, and local officials are encouraging anyone who meets the current eligibility requirements to apply now.

The federal weatherization program, which is funded through the U.S. Department of Energy, is operated locally through Interlakes Community Action Program. The program expanded significantly in 2009 when the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act awarded $25 million to be divided among South Dakota's community action organizations for the weatherization program. That award resulted in $5.3 million for ICAP to use in its service area.

ICAP Weatherization Director Scott Finck of Madison said that extended time has been given to spend the entire allocation, but officials have been given a final deadline of June 30 to spend the balance of the ARRA funds, which is about $1 million.

In addition to the ARRA allocation, the weatherization program has continued to receive annual funding, Finck said.

Coupled with the ARRA funding award was expanded income guidelines, which allowed applicants to qualify for the weatherization program if they were within 200 percent of the federal poverty guidelines.

According to the newest income guidelines available, a family of four with an income of $46,100 per year and a one-person household with an income of $22,340 per year would qualify for the program.

Finck said there are currently 66 applications on the waiting list, and contractors are able to complete 30 homes per month.

"If they apply and are eligible, we can get to them quickly," he said.

Once an applicant has qualified for the program, a weatherization representative conducts an audit on the house to determine the work that can be done to improve its energy efficiency. Eligible contractors trained through the weatherization program are then asked to bid on the project. Once a bid has been awarded, the contractor has 30 days to complete the work. Then a follow-up audit is conducted.

Persons renting homes are also able to apply for weatherization assistance. In those cases, Finck said, the landlord is asked to pay one-third of the cost.

"Some have done well and looked at it as an investment," Finck said of the landlords. "Others have been hesitant."

The landlord's commitment is waived if he or she also meets the program's income guidelines.

Finck encourages residents to take advantage of the program now not only because extra funds are available but also because annual funding continues to decrease.

The weatherization program is among federal programs that are considered entitlement programs.

"Entitlement programs are looking at serious cuts," Finck said. "It's unknown how much money will be available for these types of programs."

While income guidelines are currently set at 200 percent of the poverty level, those guidelines will most likely drop once ARRA funding expires.

ICAP serves 12 counties in eastern South Dakota with the weatherization program. Since October 2009, 1,300 homes have been weatherized; 80 of those are in Lake County. Close to 500 homes have been weatherized in Minnehaha County, 200 have been completed in Watertown and 100 in Brookings.

The additional funding has allowed for the weatherization of additional homes -- about 400 per year compared to about 160.

"It simply took longer to spend down that funding, so they extended the deadline," Finck said.

Initially, the program was given two years to spend the money.

Elissa Sand
Madison, South Dakota