In an effort to put federal dollars to good use making homes energy efficient and creating jobs, a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators led by Jack Reed (D-RI) and Susan Collins (R-ME) are urging the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to take action and use its authority to prevent the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) from shriveling up and leaving millions of Americans out in the cold. Through grants to states working with community partners, WAP has successfully weatherized 7.3 million low-income homes, helping low-income families reduce their energy bills by upgrading insulation and making energy-saving improvements to heating, cooling, and electrical systems.
WAP funding was slashed from $174 million in 2011 to $68 million in fiscal year 2012 because DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy's (EERE) still had funds left over from the Recovery Act. These funds have now been expended. But the $68 million level of funding was extended to 2013 because Congress passed a Continuing Resolution (CR), and the program may now be cut another 5 percent or more due to the sequester and other across the board reductions. If this happens, thousands fewer homes will be weatherized, eligible families will lose potential energy savings, and there could be a significant loss of full-time employment for a large number of skilled weatherization workers.
Last weekend, the U.S. Senate approved the Reed-Collins amendment to the Budget Resolution adding $50 million in budget authority for WAP in fiscal year 2014. But Congress still needs to appropriate those additional funds. In the meantime, 34 U.S. Senators sent Energy Secretary Steven Chu a letter urging immediate action for the remainder of the current fiscal year: "We are writing to urge you to use your reprogramming and transfer authority to blunt the harsh effects that flat funding under the Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 Continuing Resolution will have on the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP)."
"States will face serious challenges to maintain functioning weatherization programs if the FY 2013 funding for WAP remains at this low level. Therefore, we urge you to use any administrative authorities available to provide sufficient funding for WAP in FY 2013 in order for states to maintain an effective program," the Senators wrote.
Text of the letter follows:
The Honorable Steven Chu
U.S. Department of Energy
1000 Independence Ave., S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20585
Dear Secretary Chu:
We are writing to urge you to use your reprogramming and transfer authority to blunt the harsh effects that flat funding under the Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 Continuing Resolution will have on the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP).
The Weatherization Assistance Program helps low-income families, seniors, and individuals with disabilities make lasting energy efficiency improvements to their homes, freeing up resources for other essentials like food and medicine. During the past 33 years, WAP has provided weatherization services to more than 6.4 million low-income households, reducing their annual energy bills by an average of $437. In addition, a study by Oak Ridge National Laboratory found that for every $1 invested in the program, weatherization returns $2.51 in benefits to the household and society.
We are concerned that the program may remain at the abnormally low FY 2012 appropriation level of $68 million, a cut of 60 percent from the amount provided in FY 2011. Last year, such a level was mitigated by carry-over funds that allowed states to maintain their weatherization programs; however, those funds have now been expended. States will face serious challenges to maintain functioning weatherization programs if the FY 2013 funding for WAP remains at this low level. Therefore, we urge you to use any administrative authorities available to provide sufficient funding for WAP in FY 2013 in order for states to maintain an effective program.
We recognize the challenges on the department's budget this fiscal year, including dealing with the sequester, and believe priority should be placed on programs that support jobs, assist with the nation's economic recovery, and help meet important goals like improving efficiency to reduce energy costs. In this spirit, we urge you to ensure a sufficient investment in initiatives like WAP that reduce costs for households and return significant benefits to society.
Thank you for your past support for this program and for your consideration of this request. We look forward to working with you to ensure the continuation of this vital program.
William M. Cowan