Stimulus money to weatherize houses has been well-spent, GAO finds

The Energy Department is effectively using stimulus money to help low-income families weatherize their homes, a recent report found.

As of September, 58 state-level grant recipients reported having spent $3.46 billion in money allocated to weatherization by the 2009 American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, the Government Accountability Office said in the report released Friday.

This marks a positive turn for the $5 billion weatherization program, which GAO previously maligned in a February 2010 report that found red tape was bogging down progress on the local level.

GAO attributed the new program's success to unexpected cost-effectiveness, saying, "some [grant] recipients have been able to exceed their production targets because of a lower average cost of weatherizing homes and lower training and technical assistance expenses than anticipated."

Energy began the Weather Assistance Program in order to deliver long-term, energy-efficient home renovations for low-income families, with the goal of reducing homeowner costs, improving family health and safety, and reducing future financial burdens on the department. The report lists some examples of the work being performed with the grant money, including "installing insulation, sealing leaks, and modernizing heating and air conditioning equipment."

At the outset of the program, Energy had established March 31, 2012, as a deadline for grant recipients to complete their spending. According to the report, this worried some recipients who feared that a lack of continued financial support for weatherization projects would follow the deadline, and many of them began seeking alternative sources of funding. Energy has requested an extension to allow the recipients to continue spending their funds through September 2013, but had yet to receive official word on the extension as of November, according to the report.

GAO determined that while Energy had followed some of its earlier suggestions, including clarifying project production targets and the methodology used to measure the average cost per home weatherized, other suggestions had not been followed.

"As of October 2011, DOE had taken limited action to address the recommendation that it set time frames for the development and implementation of state monitoring programs," the report said. "The recommendation remains largely unaddressed."

Energy agreed with GAO's new findings.

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