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Push to weatherize can't break red tape

RALEIGH -- A massive nationwide effort to make low-income homes more energy-efficient has fallen months behind schedule as local nonprofits that oversee the work navigate federal regulations designed to prevent fraud and abuse.

The delays are raising the stakes for North Carolina and other states to take advantage of the federal stimulus funds before the program expires in March 2012. The weatherization program pays for free insulation, duct sealing and, in some cases, new central heating and cooling systems. Any unspent money would likely have to be returned unless Congress extends the $5 billion program created last year as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Workers were supposed to start fixing homes in this state in July, but the work didn't get under way until November and the crews didn't get to Wake County until December. The weatherization program will pump $132 million in federal stimulus funds into North Carolina over three years to weatherize more than 22,000 homes.

North Carolina's effort is about 4 1/2 months behind schedule, which is in line with most other states, said Harold Davis III, manager of the weatherization program for the Office of Economic Opportunity in Raleigh. As of Friday, crews had weatherized 678homes in the state, just 3 percent of the total project.

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