It is show time for the Minnesota Department of Commerce.
As one of the state’s primary regulators and program administrators, the department will be responsible for managing Minnesota’s $132 allotment of Recovery Act funds for weatherization. And like similar agencies in almost every other state in the union, it must make sure the funds are spent not only prudently but quickly.
Minnesota’s allotment for the next 18 to 24 months is 13 times what the state usually receives for weatherization, a recent Minneapolis Star Tribune story pointed out. This first installment is due to arrive in early July, and if all goes as hoped, Minnesota will join a wave of weatherization activity that the Obama administration rightly predicts will be the biggest in history.
For states to qualify for the remainder of the funding award, however, they must “demonstrate successful implementation of their plan,” as the U.S. Department of Energy puts it, which includes spending the first allotment within the 24-month period. “When you get this much money in such a short amount of time, that’s our concern,” a Minnesota Department of Commerce spokesman, Bill Walsh, told the paper.
The state’s Office of Legislative Auditor will conduct annual audits of the program. For evidence of what program-management techniques are (and aren’t) working elsewhere, meanwhile, North Star State officials likely won’t have to look far.
Slices of a big pie
Last week, for example, the U.S. Department of Energy announced that 40% of weatherization funds have been released for each of 15 states, including initial allotments for California ($74.32 million of a potential $185 million), which aims to energy-audit and weatherize 50,000 homes; Delaware ($5.5 million of $13 million), which is aiming for a 20% reduction in energy bills; Florida ($70.4 million of $175 million), which aims to weatherize 19,000 homes over the next three years; Maryland ($24.5 million of $61 million), which will weatherize 6,900 homes over three years; Nevada ($14.9 million of $37 million), which is targeting its weatherization program at more than 5,500 low-income homes; North Carolina ($52.7 million of $131 million), which will apply weatherization upgrades to more than 23,500 homes; Ohio ($106.7 million of $226 million), which aims to weatherize 32,000 homes and is working with 35 groups in the state to develop ongoing weatherization services; and South Carolina ($23.5 million of $58 million), which aims to service a total of 6,500 homes, 75% of them within two years.
Initial funding allotments also went out last week to the District of Columbia ($3.23 million), Montana ($10.6 million), Nebraska ($16.65 million), North Dakota ($10.1 million), South Dakota ($9.79 million), Utah ($15.15 million), and West Virginia ($15 million).
As much as 20% of each weatherization award can be spent on hiring and training workers, according to Recovery Act guidelines. In Minnesota, that could mean the creation of almost 1,000 jobs statewide.
“One job [person employed] for every $92,000,” Department of Commerce spokesman Walsh told the Star Tribune. “That’s the target we’re planning to reach and what the feds are holding us accountable for.”