Need outweighs funding for weatherization program
WELLSBORO – Trehab – a community action agency that serves the poor, unemployed, underemployed and the elderly – has seen its home weatherization funds cut by half in the past few years, according to Director Dennis Phelps.
“We have been cut from $500,000 to $600,000 per year down to between $200,000 and $300,000 this year,” Phelps said.
Trehab is a federal agency that is run by the state, he said. The local Trehab office operates in six Northern Tier counties: Lycoming, Bradford, Sullivan, Susquehanna, Tioga and Wyoming.
For those who meet income eligibility guidelines, which are posted online at www.trehab.org, Trehab will send a crew out to a residence to do a “blower door test that allows us to test the air tightness of the house and air infiltration.”
“The problem is the funding has been drastically reduced. We will probably go into layoff status (at the) end of December,” Phelps said.
Of the money that was allocated this year, only about $118,000 is left for weatherization, with a cap of about $6,000 per home, he said.
The money can be spent on insulation, caulking and weather stripping around doors and windows, furnace repair or even replacement if the situation warrants it, Phelps said.
“We receive referrals from the public assistance office for homes that have furnace issues. When the Low Income Heating Energy Assistance Program is over in March, we can use it for weatherization, but just like a lot of the other human services programs, that has been cut as well,” he said. “There is a lot of need out there.”
“Generally, we emphasize caulking windows and blowing in insulation to tighten the house up as much as we can,” Phelps said.
Other eligibility criteria is based on the house itself, he added.
“The state has become more restrictive in what we can do, so we are not putting a furnace in a building that is going to fall down in six months,” he said.
Furnace problems range from not working but needing only minor repair to total replacement of very old furnaces.
“We have furnace contractors that report back to us if it is beyond repair or not,” he said.
A furnace has a shelf life and older folks who have lived with the same furnace for 20 years or more just don’t have the money to replace it, as that can cost $4,000 to $6,000.
“We even have people that have no furnace and want one put in, which requires special permission from the state,” he added.
“Some need very little (but) some need more than we can provide. We have a small contract with UGI to provide weatherization and we try to marry those programs as much as we can,” he said.
The money from UGI is fairly low, amounting to about $60,000, he said, and “it takes three to five months to use that money. There is a lot of need in their territory as well.”
Last year, Phelps said Trehab did 109 weatherizations in all six counties.
“Fifty-eight were Department of Community and Economic Develpoment funded and the remainder were UGI and utility weatherizations,” he said.
This year so far, Trehab has done 49 weatherizations and 34 furnace repairs are in progress, Phelps said.
UGI has about $398,000 of its basic contract amount for its LIHEAP program, with $280,000 available for furnace repair until March.
“There is probably $118,000 left for weatherization for the rest of year, out of a total budget of around $200,000 for the year – $158,000 state funded and $46,000 utility funded – which is a fraction of what we used to have,” Phelps said.
Crews in Tioga and Susquehanna counties only work six months out of the year now and there used to be three crews that covered all six counties, according to Phelps.
Over past 2 1/2 years when the stimulus was available, the agency did a lot of weatherization, he said.
Phelps said people apply through the website, and Trehab also advertises when money is available.
“We have a stack that are in play and the applications are only good for a certain amount of time, so people should re-apply,” he said.
People can call, send an application in and ask what the status is but must realize “we have been cut way back. It is a shame because there is a lot of need,” he added.