East Missouri Action Agency hosted a discussion in Park Hills recently, focusing on opportunities available for members of the community related to home weatherization services.
Agency Executive Director Keri McCrorey welcomed the attending community leaders from various offices and described the background of the Weatherization Assistance Program, which started in 1976.
“Over the course of those 42 years, we have serviced a lot of homes in our eight-county service area and across the nation,” McCrorey said. “Today, there’s about 35,000 homes serviced yearly through this program.”
The program is funded by the Department of Energy, with funds being dispersed to states for use in local communities. East Missouri Action Agency Weatherization Program Manager Dave Scheck said that in the 42 years of the program, 14,000 homes had been weatherized in the eight counties serviced by East Missouri.
East Missouri Action Agency L.I.F.E. Program Coordinator Rob Baker provided a presentation highlighted what the weatherization process consists of, who can take advantage of the program and how to go about doing so.
“Everything starts with a home energy audit,” Baker explained. “The way the program works now is once that energy audit is completed, it actually gives a report to the auditor indicating what things need to be replaced. You may not have to replace windows, but just seal around windows.”
Baker went on to explain that low-income families are more heavily impacted by rising energy costs due to home inefficiency, sometimes accounting for as much as 16.3 percent of a house’s total income, or more.
“We see families coming in and saying they didn’t buy medicine this month because their bill was higher than they could afford,” Baker said. “Or they didn’t go to the grocery store this month.”
Beyond just knowing that the program exists, Baker said an obstacle to be overcome are some misconceptions about the program. First, that the income requirements for the weatherization program are higher than many other programs and second that renting a home disqualifies someone from benefiting from the program.
“Many families that are working families qualify for weatherization services, but because it’s sometimes seen as a low-income program, they don’t apply for the assistance because they think they’re over the income level. We’re trying to change that perception.
“One other thing about weatherization that is kind of a misconception is the idea of not being able to get weatherization services if you rent. If you are a renter and you are income eligible for the program, as long as the landlord gives permission for the work to be done, the work can be done on rental properties.”
Baker went on to say that for every $1 invested in the program, there is $1.72 in energy benefits and $2.78 in non-energy benefits.
Connie Taylor and Connie Sanchez, representing Ameren Missouri and Spire, respectively, explained ways that customers might be able to control their energy bills, and why a utility company would be interested in assisting that.
“A lot of people will say, ‘You work for a utility company — why do you want people’s bills to go down?’” Taylor said.
She said that there are many programs offered directly by utility companies like Ameren to actually take more ownership of usage and to work out payment plans during rough patches. The system works best, she said, when the customers are accessing utilities as efficiently as possible.
Also present was Caleb Cook, an inspector with East Missouri Action Agency’s weatherization program, who provided some final thoughts on the importance of weatherization at the local level, comparing it to experiences gleaned from working in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina.
“That was a disaster,” he said. “It was a train wreck and it was emotionally very difficult, I think, for all of us who were there. I can say that this is harder, because we meet people daily who are forced to choose between things like medication and heat. Or groceries and lights.”
Cook went on to say that most people probably know someone who needs or has received weatherization services.
“These are people we know and see out and about,” he said. “I’m sure we all know somebody who either has had it or needs it and doesn’t say anything. I don’t think that gets stressed enough — that there are people in our families who are living paycheck to paycheck and are struggling to keep their lights on. It doesn’t have to be that way.”
For more information about weatherization services provided by East Missouri Action Agency, visit www.eastmoaa.org/services/weatherization/.