Handyman caulking a window frame

Community action agencies say weatherization assistance programs provide a local economic benefit, in part because crews are using funds to buy supplies locally to make homes more energy-efficient. (Adobe Stock)

Home weatherization programs for low-income households have come a long way, but federal funding has not always matched demand.

In Minnesota, community action agencies often oversee the assistance, and hope they can stretch their budgets further.

This year, there is a possibility of some extra federal attention, with the pending infrastructure bill poised to include ten times the funding weatherization programs usually get.

Laura Milbrandt, weatherization director for the Prairie Five Community Action Council in western Minnesota, said it could free up other money to help households address other glaring needs.

“Sometimes we get into the house and there are things we can’t address, so we have to defer households,” Milbrandt observed. “Some health and safety items, like major plumbing and major electrical, that we just... it’s beyond the scope of what weatherization can fix.”

And she pointed out they can reach more people who are not deemed a priority for traditional weatherization needs, like insulation and furnace repairs.

The agencies noted services have grown from mainly putting plastic on windows, to a scientific approach in protecting homes. The infrastructure bill in Congress was expected to include $3.5 billion for weatherization efforts.

Scott Zahorik, executive director of the Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Agency in northern Minnesota, said there is a waiting list for weatherization. Should the extra funding come through, they can help many others reduce their energy-cost burden.

“There’s a lot of single parents out there trying to raise their families,” Zahorik explained. “We’ve got a lot of senior citizens on fixed incomes. And we can really make a life-changing difference in their home.”

Local agencies are guided by Minnesota Community Action Partnership (MinnCAP).

Annie Shapiro, advocacy director for MinnCAP’s Resource Fund, said the funding boost would provide opportunities for growth and program innovation.

“To think of creative ways to weatherize some of the more multifamily housing buildings and units, which tend to be a bit more challenging,” Shapiro suggested.

The state reported the program has reduced energy costs by an average of 15% in more than 49,000 Minnesota homes since 2005.

Reach Regional Managing Editor Suzanne Rook at 507-333-3134. ©Copyright 2021 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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