As of August 17, U.S. natural gas prices were up 525% compared to a low point in June 2020, according to coverage by CNN Business. That impacts electricity costs. For example, Duke Energy’s 9.5% price increase started on September 1.
The worst part of this is that low-income households already carry a much larger energy-cost burden than others. Department of Energy Research indicates that these households spend nearly 14% of total annual income versus 3% for other households. And, when people are home more often—as many were during COVID-19 lockdowns—energy costs spike even higher.
Fortunately, recent legislation will push a huge influx of dollars into weatherization programs for low-income households. That’s why NCCAA is now helping community action agencies publicize the opportunities so that the increased funding reaches people who need weatherization help.
Nationwide, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act signed into law last November will pump $3.5 billion into weatherization assistance programs (WAP) throughout the country. More than $90 million of it is headed to North Carolina, with most of it slated to be distributed during the next five years. “That’s roughly four times what community action agencies in North Carolina have received in the past,” said Detrick Clark, Director of Housing and Energy Programs for NCCAA. The state’s Housing Finance Agency also is contributing $10 million to weatherization efforts.
Provisions in the infrastructure bill make it easier than ever for people to qualify for weatherization assistance. For one thing, the bill contains categorical eligibility criteria that dictate anyone who already qualifies for HUD housing also qualifies for weatherization assistance programs and can participate if landlords approve the work.
This provision makes the program-qualification process easier for assistance recipients and also simplifies publicity efforts for community action agencies. Because anyone living in a HUD property can be assumed to meet income guidelines, agencies can target larger HUD apartment complexes and efficiently reach many people who might benefit from WAP aid. “This will help agencies deploy their resources more effectively because they can concentrate their marketing efforts,” Clark said.
Spreading the word
Given these changes, now is a great time to publicize weatherization assistance programs, and that’s exactly what NCCAA is doing. The association has created marketing materials and will soon be distributing them to all agencies so that people who come in for services can easily learn about WAP programs. In addition, the association is helping support canvassing efforts.
“We know most of our agencies do better when they market these programs by going door-to-door in the community,” said Clark. “We have 18 apprentices that the state helped us hire to support this projected increase in weatherization assistance, and about half a dozen of them are involved in marketing the program.” Canvassers will be knocking on doors around the state through September 30, while other apprentices are already working with contractors to acquire hands-on weatherization training.
Along with door-to-door marketing, NCCAA is helping to spread the word through community resource events. In August, the NCCAA weatherization team hit eight of them. While none are scheduled for September, agencies can reach out to Clark directly for support at events they’re planning for the future.
In addition, the association has developed a mailer that will begin hitting a targeted list of recipients in the next couple of weeks. “We’ll be sending the mailer to people in all those category-eligible communities … people in HUD properties. We’re letting them know that they’re eligible for assistance and, if they’re interested, they should reach out to their local agency,” Clark explained.
On top of these materials, Clark has a video in development to help publicize how life-changing weatherization can be. It features Ms. Teresa Smith, a retiree from Hillsborough, who was helped by the team at Central Piedmont Community Action. Her weatherization assistance left her with new insulation in the attic and beneath the house; new duct work that fixed an 18-inch gap in one air-distribution duct; insulation around all air ducts and water pipes; a vapor shield beneath the home, plus carbon dioxide and radon detection devices to keep the air in the home clean.
Smith also received a new, efficient heat pump that replaced an inefficient furnace and air-conditioner, a new thermostat, as well as a new hot-water heater that replaced an old, ill-working one.
Prior to having her home weatherized, Smith’s gas and electricity bills sometimes took up as much as a third of her monthly social security check. Now it’s down from a high of around $300 per month to a steady $50 or $75 per month, depending on the season. “The savings was tremendous because now I have better equipment that isn’t on its last legs,” Smith said. “I didn’t have to grit my teeth when the heating bill came. I can open it up without being scared about whether I’d have enough money for the month.”
Not all homes are as ready as Smith’s was to receive energy- and water-saving upgrades. “Sometimes the condition of a home is too extensive for weatherization, so residents end up on the deferrals list,” Clark said. This means folks must invest in some pricey home repairs before they can qualify for WAP help.
To help these residents, the state has added a $15 million weatherization readiness fund that will pay for repairs such as roofing, plumbing, or electrical work needed to get a home in good enough shape for the WAP team to work on. “This will create a new pool of people for those added funds from the infrastructure bill to support,” Clark concluded.