Indiana has hammered out plans for spending federal stimulus funds for weatherization, and the agencies designated by the state to administer the program and spend the money say they’re ready to roll.
But it is not yet clear exactly when those funds – $53 million for this year and, if all federal criteria are met, another $78 million in 2010 – will be released.
Other states have received a first allotment of weatherization money from the Department of Energy. Indiana is among the very few states that haven’t.
When asked by the Indianapolis Star about the reason for the delay, the DOE’s weatherization program manager, Gilbert Sperling, declined to comment. But in a story published on Sunday, officials at state and local agencies were far less reluctant to discuss the problem, which they said is pegged to three concerns.
Where the money goes
The first is that the administration of Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels has directed a large portion of the first allotment, more than $20.7 million, to the Indiana Builders Association, which has been a generous contributor to Daniels’ political campaigns since 2004 but has not administered programs of this sort in the past. The IBA says the administration’s intention was to funnel funds not only to agencies that have long handled DOE programs but to business groups whose members have expertise in weatherization and need work.
The Star notes that the IBA’s application to participate in the weatherization program indicates the association has administered only one federal grant, for $32,000, for a training program in 2008
Sherry Seiwert, director of the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority, which oversees Indiana’s weatherization programs, told the paper that the DOE’s second concern is the state’s decision to give weatherization aid only to people currently on a list for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, known as LIHEAP.
Tougher qualifying criteria
The Star also points out that the LIHEAP list includes families at 150% of the federal poverty level – or about $33,000 for a family of four – instead of the weatherization income limit of 200% – about $44,000 for that same family – set by Congress.
The third issue is that Indiana wants to cap the per-home spending average at $5,000 rather than the $6,500 limit Congress set. Seiwert told the Star the lower cap would allow the state to weatherize 24,000 homes by March 2011, instead of about 18,500 under the federal limit.
Indiana is hardly the only state that had plans to customize its weatherization program. Texas and Missouri, for example, had developed a variety of strategies that state officials said would expedite weatherization projects. But at the end of the day, the DOE still has to approve the states’ plans, whatever their merits, but it releases federal funds.
We’ll follow up on the situation in Indiana as the story unfolds.