Interesting things happen at the end of a Congressional session. OPAE started working on a reauthorization of the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) in earnest six years ago, having conversations with legislative staffers and other interested parties. The bill was introduced and went through three Congresses without getting to the floor until this year. The WAP legislation was bundled into an energy package that roughly matched a similar Senate bill and was approved by the House in late Spring 2019. The intent was to lure the Senate into actually passing a bipartisan energy bill that had been around for 8 years but had never been brought to the floor. To be fair, the bill evolved quite a bit over the years and became much more substantive, authorizing a broad range of research and development as well as deployment efforts such as WAP.
Senator McConnell continued to hold up the Portman-Shaheen bill from coming to the floor, apparently not wanting anyone to get a win before the election (especially the American people, apparently.)
The opportunity to pass the package came with the combination of the second pandemic relief bill, which was coupled with the Omnibus Appropriations Bill, which included a $5 million increase in funding for WAP to $310 million.
Specific changes that will benefit clients and agencies include:
- Higher allowance for administrative cost from 10 to 15 percent of the grant;
- Authority to “re-weatherize” a home if 15 years have passed since the original services;
- During the 15-year post-installation period, WAP funds can be spent on follow-up communications and services that are not major WAP measures in already-weatherized homes;
- DOE is given flexibility to include cost-effective renewable energy measures and other emerging technologies as program measures; and,
- DOE is allowed to include non-energy benefits in calculating cost-effectiveness.
- Another impactful provision is a requirement that DOE allocate funds to a substantial program of competitive grants for innovative practices, which can include projects to enhance WAP by dealing with deferred properties and unhealthy home conditions as well as projects to test technology. At current funding levels, 6 percent of the appropriation will be devoted to the grants. All grantees and subgrantees will be eligible to apply, as will other non-profit organizations.
I spoke with several colleagues in Washington and was told there had been a big push among proponents of the bill, looking for anything to attach the energy package to. The huge combination legislation – the printed version was almost 5 feet tall – proved to be the opportunity.
Senator Shaheen and Representative Tonko carried the bill, with significant support from Senator Collins and bipartisan support from members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, a Committee where members often work across the aisle. A refreshing occurrence in this day and age.