Weatherization program far behind goal

A program to winterize thousands of homes using federal stimulus money has fallen far behind its initial goals, according to a federal report.

The Department of Energy's inspector general found that almost 95 percent of targeted homes remained unweatherized as of last week.

"We found this data alarming," the report noted, adding: "Program challenges... placed the Recovery Act-funded weatherization program 'on hold' for up to nine months." Those challenges, the report said, included red tape and confusion over wage rates.

The stimulus bill required companies performing weatherization work to pay "prevailing wages," the hourly rate earned by a majority of workers performing similar work in a geographic area. Many grant recipients were not sure what the pay would be because weatherization workers were not typically paid the prevailing wage. Worried about a big bill for additional back pay, the report said, many grantees simply waited until the Department of Labor last fall issued prevailing wage "guidance."

In the 2009 stimulus bill, Congress set aside $5 billion over three years to weatherize roughly 586,000 older homes. The idea was to improve energy efficiency, cut fuel bills and provide jobs for thousands of workers. But by last week, the inspector general found that just 30,297 homes, or about 5.2 percent, had been upgraded. Five states, the District of Columbia and several territories and tribal areas failed to weatherize any homes.

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