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Martinsville, Virginia 24115
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Weatherization aid will benefit area

Monday, April 6, 2009

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

Over three years, federal stimulus funds for home weatherization (energy-conservation) assistance are expected to help 308 low- and moderate- income families in Martinsville, Danville and Henry and Pittsylvania counties, officials said.

That will be in addition to the federal government's regular annual weatherization assistance program, which will continue.

Details of the stimulus weatherization assistance still are being worked out, according to Sherman Saunders and Marsha G. Mendenhall. Saunders is the executive director of Pittsylvania County Community Action Inc., which serves Martinsville, Danville and Henry and Pittsylvania counties. Mendenhall is the director of planning and budget of Pittsylvania County Community Action and the interim coordinator of a division of that agency, the Southside Community Action Program, which serves Henry County and Martinsville.

Saunders said he thinks the stimulus weatherization program will be beneficial to the families who qualify, but 308 families are only a small percentage of the total number of families that need home weatherization assistance in the area served by his agency.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy Web site, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act includes $5 billion for weatherization assistance; Virginia's share is $94.1 million. Of that, at this point, Pittsylvania County Community Action is scheduled to receive a total of $2,389,273 over three years.

The amounts that Martinsville, Danville and Henry and Pittsylvania counties each will receive have not yet been determined, but hopefully should be known within a couple weeks, according to Saunders and Mendenhall.

How much each jurisdiction gets will depend in part on further federal directives and also operations decisions being made at Pittsylvania County Community Action, said Saunders, who stressed Friday that the stimulus home weatherization program "is a work in progress."�

Priority will be given to households that earn no more than 75 percent of the state median income (for example, $58,810 for a family of four), to the elderly (at least 60), the physically or mentally disabled, homes with children up to 8 years of age, and households with the greatest energy conservation needs but where repairs can be done for a maximum $6,500 per home, Saunders and Mendenhall said.

Each locality's poverty rate also may be considered in determining its allocation.

A home may be served only once under the stimulus weatherization assistance program. The money may be used for such energy conservation measures as stopping air leakage; insulating and venting an attic; insulating a water heater; repairing leaky duct systems; repairing and replacing inefficient or unsafe heating and air-conditioning systems; installing carbon monoxide and smoke detectors; and other measures, according to Saunders, the Department of Energy and a news release from 9th District U.S. Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Abingdon.

Advantages of the stimulus weatherization assistance program over the regular weatherization assistance program are that the stimulus program increases the qualifying family's income limits (for example, increasing the maximum income for a family of four from $27,560 to $58,810), making more households eligible, and it increases the maximum amount that can be spent per household from $2,500 to $6,500, according to Saunders and Mendenhall.

Homes that have been weatherized will save an average of at least 21 percent on their energy bills, freeing the money for a family's other needs, Saunders said. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the weatherization assistance program allows families to reduce their heating bills by an average of 32 percent and overall energy bills by hundreds of dollars per year.

When families spend those savings on other things, it will help stimulate the economy, Saunders said.

Also, he said that Pittsylvania County Community Action will hire at least three people to do such things as take applications and do home energy audits, and the agency will hire contractors to do the weatherization work. The agency will encourage the contractors to hire unemployed people, further helping the local economy, Saunders said.

The normal home weatherization assistance program provided about $500,000 this fiscal year for improvements to homes in Martinsville, Danville and Henry and Pittsylvania counties, Saunders said. He expects about the same amount for next fiscal year, which will start July 1. The numbers of homes weatherized this year and expected to be done next year were unavailable.

Applications for stimulus weatherization assistance are available locally at Southside Community Action Program, 58 W. Church St., Martinsville. People who are disabled or who need more information should call Southside Community Action Program at 666-0313 or Pittsylvania County Community Action at (434) 432-5627. Saunders and Mendenhall urge people to apply early because those who qualify will be served on a first-come, first-served basis.


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