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Follow VPR's statehouse coverage, featuring Pete Hirschfeld and Bob Kinzel in our Statehouse Bureau in Montpelier.

Waiting Lists, Funding Challenges For Low-Income Weatherization Efforts

VPR/John Dillon
Karen Lafayette, with the Vermont Low Income Advocacy Council, wants a boost in weatherization funds.

A coalition of lawmakers and anti-poverty advocates wants Gov. Peter Shumlin's administration to increase funding for a program that helps low-income people insulate their homes.

The advocates make a common sense argument: As every Vermonter knows, when you heat your house, you don’t want to heat the outside as well. The advocates say weatherization is an investment that saves people money and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

But the state’s housing stock is old, and often poorly insulated. So the state’s low-income weatherization program – which helps people tighten up those leaky homes – has a huge demand for services.

Paul Zabriskie, the weatherization director at the anti-poverty agency, Central Vermont Community Action, said that, statewide, the waiting list for weatherization assistance ranges from two to 22 months.

“If you call Central Vermont Community Action from Montpelier, you are likely to be served sometime in the summer of 2015,” he said.

"We're employing Vermonters; we're buying local materials; we're producing savings for households that desperately need them." - Paul Zabriskie, Central Vermont Community Action

In the meantime, Zabriskie said, energy is wasted and people are spending money they don’t have to.

“When weatherization goes in, we reduce the energy use in buildings; we reduce fossil fuel purchases that are exporting dollars from our economy,” he said. “We’re employing Vermonters; we’re buying local materials; we’re producing savings for households that desperately need them."

About $8 million of the program’s $12 million budget comes from a .5 percent tax on unregulated heating fuels. 

Hal Cohen, executive director of Central Vermont Community Action, said one option is to raise that tax.

“If it was doubled we could have a program that was as large as $16 million, and do many more homes,” he said.

The problem with paying for low income weatherization is that a big piece of the funding over the last few years has come from what’s known in Montpelier as “one time” funds. Those include federal stimulus dollars and a payment from the 2012 merger between the state’s largest utilities.

But those one-time funds are going away, and the program needs a boost to get it back to last year’s level.

David Yacovone, the commissioner of the Department of Children and Families, said the state just learned that it got a federal grant to help cover some of the weatherization costs. 

“We’re approaching almost $11 million, so we’re much closer to what the advocates wanted,” he said.

Yacovone said the state probably cannot make up the difference to get the program back to last year’s funding level.

“So while it may not be the same dollar amount, we’re trying to target it and leverage it to get the most out of it that we can,” he said.

But lawmakers and advocates say the state does has other funding options, such as raising the heating fuel tax or making slight to cuts to other programs.

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