How bloat can be a win-win for struggling Americans

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Unemployment and the shift to remote work have confined many American workers to their homes for much of the past year and a half. But some find it difficult to keep their homes adequately lit, heated and cooled. According to a recent Census Bureau survey, more than 37 million Americans have been unable to pay an energy bill in the past year. The impact was immediate: since March 2020, the Center for Biological Diversity estimates that more than one million homes in the United States have seen their utilities shut down – and as pandemic moratoria on utility shutdowns expire, millions more are vulnerable to overdue bills and potential shutdowns.

Clearly, more equitable approaches to energy are needed. Weatherization (modifications made to buildings to increase energy efficiency) offers a way to reduce utility bills while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It also offers the potential to create green jobs and improve the health and safety of American homes.

Unlike many other environmental issues, funding for weatherization tends to attract broad bipartisan support. For example, in Georgia, the nonprofit Georgia Interfaith Power and Light (GIPL) has worked for two decades to mobilize a religious response to global warming. In 2010, GIPL created Power Wise, a program designed to help congregations reduce their carbon emissions by improving energy efficiency. Since then, the program has funded more than 400 energy efficiency projects and distributed nearly $ 1 million in grants.

“We believe that one of the roles of the faith community is to hold bad actors to account. We need to take care of our communities, regardless of our political affiliations, ”says Codi Norred, Executive Director of GIPL.

A national movement to finance the weatherization

Since 1976, the United States Department of Energy (DOE) Weatherization assistance program (WAP) has provided funds that help thousands of people every year tamper with their homes. But according to the agency’s own estimates, less than one percent of eligible low-income households are able to take advantage of WAP money each year. The main problem is the lack of funding: there is simply not enough money to help isolate the majority of the homes of the most needy families.

That’s why Dream Corps, a nonprofit working to build a more sustainable and equitable society, calls on Congress to dramatically increase investments in WAP, with the goal of reaching $ 10 billion. funding. Green For All, the Dream Corps initiative dedicated to solving environmental, economic and racial justice issues, also works to improve the coordination of federal, state, and utility-managed programs that help people pay their taxes. energy bills. The goal is to make it easier for these programs to identify eligible households, helping people access funds for needed home repairs, weatherization and relief on utility bills.

Green For All believes that if the federal government invests 10 billion dollars in the weatherization of low-income housing – the amount the National Energy Assistance Directors Association considers necessary to meet the current need – this would generate more than 100,000 jobs. A recent Green report for all found that these jobs pay more on average than the national median salary. They are also accessible to workers who do not have higher education, and they are usually local jobs that are difficult to contract out, providing job stability. And as the work of Power Wise shows, the appeal of such programs runs on both sides of the political aisle.

A major investment in weatherization finance would help those most affected by energy costs. Even before the pandemic, low-income households spent more than double their income on utilities as the median household. Like Alexis Blizman, legislative and policy director at the Ecology Center, an environmental nonprofit in Ann Arbor, says, “Those with the lowest incomes experience the greatest energy burden. “

Address health and safety issues

Historically, many households eligible for weatherization funds have missed them due to pre-existing health or safety concerns. These issues, such as leaky roofs, mold infiltration, or the wiring of buttons and tubes, must be addressed before weather protection measures can be taken safely and effectively. The problem is, dealing with them costs money. “The most vulnerable cannot afford to make these fixes. They are trapped in a cycle that maintains their energy load at a disproportionate level, ”explains Blizman.

A key element of Green For All’s advocacy is to ensure that vulnerable households have access to both pre-weatherization and weatherization works. Recent work from the Ecology Center shows just how effective such advocacy can be. In 2020, the organization participated in settlements with Michigan’s two largest energy utilities. As part of the deal, reached in conjunction with the Michigan Department of the Attorney General and Michigan’s Citizens Utility Board, utilities agreed to improve the affordability of weatherizing homes for low-income households. spending approximately $ 2 million each on health and safety pilots. The goal of these programs is to help low-income customers make the repairs and home improvements needed to begin the weatherization process.

Over the past year, these programs have improved the safety and energy efficiency of more than 200 homes, leading to lower energy bills and better health outcomes for the people who live there, including reduced exposure to chemicals. asthma triggers like allergens, molds and dust mites. . The programs are scheduled to expire within the year, but Blizman is currently working to find public funding that would extend them for several years.

Weatherization programs such as these not only improve the health of vulnerable populations, but make their homes more resistant to extreme weather events. This is especially important in areas of the country prone to episodes of extreme heat or cold. California’s Central Valley, for example, experiences both ends of the temperature spectrum. A statewide weather protection program, supported by Green For All, helps residents operate the furnace in the winter and the air conditioner in the summer.

Emilio Rentana is just one of many Fresno residents who have benefited from the programming in recent years. His house needed new windows to optimize the efficiency of its heating and cooling. “They went in and took the window measurements, and about a week later they came in and installed the windows in one day,” says Rentana. “It gives me a good feeling to know that there are people out there who care.”


Dream Corps Green for All works at the intersection of environmental, economic and racial justice movements to advance solutions to poverty and pollution. We advocate for strong, resilient and healthy neighborhoods through political work and empathy-based storytelling that ensures that as the clean economy grows, it brings good jobs, better health and opportunities. historically underserved communities. Learn more by visiting www.thedreamcorps.org or follow us on Twitter @GreenForAll.




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