Staying cool in the summer costs most of us more these days as electricity prices rise. For low-income families, especially older people living on a fixed income, this can lead to breaking the family budget - or exposure to excessive heat.
One way to avoid high utility bills is to make homes more energy efficient. That is the goal of the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP), a federal program designed to increase energy efficiency for low-income families. The Weatherization Assistance Program targets services toward households hardest hit by high utility costs and most vulnerable to ill effects from high and fluctuating utility expenditures.
When home systems and appliances use less energy to provide services, families are better protected from extreme heat and cold. In addition, more affordable energy makes housing more affordable, reducing homelessness and lowering dependence on energy and other public assistance.
WAP has had significant success, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), which estimates that home weatherization reduces annual energy costs for all fuels by an average of $437 per household, and reduces bills for natural gas heating by an average of 32 percent. The Department of Energy estimates that the program has weatherized over 7 million homes since 1976.
WAP Benefits Families, the Economy and the Environment
Low-income households receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI), or those with older residents, young children, persons with disabilities as well as those paying a high share of income for energy, are eligible for WAP benefits. DOE defines "low income" as household income at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty income guidelines.
What Does WAP Do?
Weatherization addresses energy loss caused by building structural design, heating and cooling systems, and electrical systems including appliances. Typical measures include installing insulation, sealing ducts, and tuning, repairing and testing heating and cooling systems.
How Is WAP Funded?
WAP is funded primarily through annual congressional appropriations managed and allocated by the Department of Energy. The WAP program distributes grants to states and territories, which in turn grant funds to community-based nonprofits or local governement agencies with expertise in delivering program services.
States often combine the Department of Energy's WAP allocations with other federal, state, local, utility and private funds to weatherize houses. These other sources include U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) funds, and funds from utility companies, state governments and property owner contributions. Additional funds, which vary from state to state and year to year, can constitute a significant portion of a state's funding for low-income weatherization.
WAP and the American Recovery and Reivestment Act (ARRA)
WAP's dual focus on moving toward a reduced-carbon economy and investing in small businesses made it a good fit for the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). That legislation appropriated $5 billion for WAP over three years, a twentyfold increase over FY 2008 - which helped WAP exceed the administration's goal of weatherizing 634,956 low-income homes by nearly 25 percent.
Ann McLarty Jackson works on low-income utility issues and issues of diverse access to financial institutions and other services and supports. She has written reports on federal and state utility assistance, winter heating and summer cooling costs for older populations, and access to financial institutions by diverse populations.