OPAE is actively involved in developing and promoting legislation to reauthorize the Weatherization Assistance Program (“WAP” or “HWAP”). Last reauthorized as a part of the Obama Administrations efforts to pull the country out of recession — a reauthorization that made significant changes in the Program — there continues to be bipartisan support. As introduced, the reauthorization bill, HR 2041/S983, increases the authorized funding level to $350 million.
Last year actual appropriations were $254 million, so funding at the authorized level is unlikely. The Trump Administration’s request will be zero. The National Community Action Foundation, with OPAE’s support, pushed for and got an increase in administrative funding to 15%. We were also able to make a major change in prior year’s legislation that would have harmed local agencies. Last year’s bill required agencies to hire contractors (and fire crews). The new version simply requires the Secretary to review and potentially encourage agencies to hire contractors. That’s a major improvement.
The bill still contains a new Innovations Program – which I refer to as the diversion program – that is designed to test new approaches to weatherization or rehab. The goals of the program are to figure out what we already know how to do – leverage and coordinate funding, hustle money to repair roofs and wiring, make a house weatherization ready, and the like. A change from last year’s bill will allow HWAP agencies to apply for the competitive funding. If the bill passes in this form, the Innovations Program could divert $11.6 million from the core grant program to the new grants, which can last up to 3 years.
OPAE is currently working with the National Housing Trust and the Natural Resource Defense Council, which have partnered as Energy Efficiency for All (EEFA), to promote weatherization of affordable multifamily housing. We are hoping to insert a couple provisions to support increased multifamily housing. The most significant of these will
allow WAP providers to use HUD and RDA income information to approve clients/buildings for service without having to take income data for every tenant. OPAE has also pushed for elimination of the average cost per unit for renewable energy systems, which breaks down the major barrier to using WAP for solar and geothermal
systems. The outcome for that amendment also looks promising.
The House bill has been combined with other energy and water efficiency bills into HR 2741. In Committee, minority members have complained at not being involved in the development of some of the bills in the package, while some of the bills were introduced by Republicans. The Energy and Commerce Committee has operated in a more bipartisan fashion over the last several years, so it is expected that the omnibus bill will be passed out of Committee in July.
The Senate outlook is less clear, but Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chair, Lisa Murkowski, is a long-time supporter of weatherization, as are many members of her Committee including Susan Collins of Maine, and Maria Cantwell of Washington State, along with the author of the Senate version of the WAP reauthorization, Senator Coons of Delaware.
We’ve got a year and a half to get this done. Stay tuned for updates. For the time being, agencies in Rep. Bob Latta’s district should urge him to cosponsor the bill. He is the sole Ohioan on the Energy and Commerce Committee. There are no Ohioans on the Senate Committee.