Published by National Community Action Foundation; February 10, 2021
We’re expecting that the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) will be a major component of an upcoming transportation/infrastructure/climate change proposal in Congress. Discussions could begin as early as March. As you recall, we asked the network for input on how to best roll out a multi-billion-dollar WAP. Obviously, lessons learned from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 initiative played an important part in your suggestions to NCAF. The below were issues raised by the network and some of our policy solutions to remedy your concerns. Our inquiry to the network about challenges that may be presented by a large scale WAP “stimulus” or “infrastructure initiative” found remarkable unanimity from every region on the following challenges and potential solutions:
TIME: Once funded, there must be substantial lead time allowed for ramping up the scale of the program and a period of five or more years to reach its goals because of:
- PROCEDURAL and Contracting Requirements like federal establishment of Davis-Bacon wages and then adaptation of all local agency and contractor payroll reporting systems; issuing new procurements with all the added requirements; Buy American regulations and related changes in state and local procurement regulations;
- EXPANDING TRAINING RESOURCES;
- PANDEMIC-related constraints added to above:
- a shortage of willing candidate homes, so waiting lists are short or do not exist;
- training capacity is 1/5 pre covid level because of physical distancing requirements in training venues;
- PPE shortages.
FIVE COST ELEMENTS and timeline concerns make Weatherization difficult under the current state Average Cost ceiling, and will worsen if many efficiency programs expand:
- LABOR SHORTAGE which leads to difficulty retaining trained WAP workers and contractors;
- SHORTAGE of HOMES in WAP-READY condition and the resources to fix them;
- SHORTAGE OF ESSENTIAL measures/ EQUIPMENT from refrigerators to furnaces and PPE;
- RISING COST OF BUILDING MATERIALS;
- TRAINING COSTS – EXPENSE for mandated training and credentials including wages and tuition.
All of these together mean the statutory average statewide cost per home is now too low.
OTHER program requirements that exclude many homes from service, bypass GHG reduction opportunities and/or prohibit addressing housing-related determinants of poor health while on site:
- FALLING COST of NATURAL GAS means many effective measures do not meet the -Savings-to-Investment Ratio;
- LIMITS ON HEALTH AND SAFETY EXPENDITURES by regulation and per the S.I.R.;
- RESTRICTIONS ON FUEL SWITCHING from fossil fuels;
- RESTRICTIONS ON RENEWABLE TECHNOLOGY by statute and also per the S.I.R.
END OF PROGRAM transition for the workforce must be funded and managed for worker protection; local agencies and their contractors must be exempt from Unemployment Tax rate increases.
Weatherization leaders made many suggestions for changes in program practices or regulations that would result in qualifying and upgrading many more eligible homes, including but not limited to:
- Provide designated new funds for the costs of Davis Bacon compliance and reporting;
- Expand training locations, on-line training, on-site training and training partnerships;
- Provide added funding for the time cost of training new workers on the job;
- Allow significant funding for major repairs pre-weatherization;
- Install a standard package of proven measures in each home [without energy audit];
- Allow partial weatherization jobs that will contribute to bill reduction, using only parts of the package in homes that are not in good enough condition to receive the entire package;
- Raise the Average Cost per Home limit;
- Change all fossil fuel-based systems to electric heat pumps or renewable energy;
- Establish Medicaid /Medicare reimbursement for “Healthy Home’ upgrades.
The last six solutions require statutory changes when authorizing a 5-year “Build Back Better” WAP initiative.
A dramatically expanded WAP is likely to happen and NCAF is working hard to ensure that we’ve eliminated barriers and created the most possible avenues for success. Obviously, any significant increase in WAP funding is important to the network, for Congress and perhaps most importantly the Biden administration. There will be a lot riding on implementation of this initiative.