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Stimulus weatherization aid favors cold regions

Click here for a map showing how much each state received and the amount of funds per eligible person.

May 7 – A huge boost in federal funds to help low-income families weatherize their homes provides more than $3 on average in the coldest states for every $1 given to warm-weather states, an analysis of the aid program shows — even though exposure to extreme heat and cold are both health risks.

"People think weatherization is only for cold weather," says James Miller, spokesman for the Florida Department of Community Affairs. "The heat is just as dangerous as the cold."

President Obama's economic stimulus plan provides $5 billion for weatherization, more than 20 times the normal yearly budget. The 33-year- old program began as a way to conserve heating fuel. It still favors northern climates, despite efforts to provide more money for southern states in recent years.

Consider Florida and Minnesota. Their energy costs and consumption per resident are about the same. Minnesota gets $110.40 for each eligible person, compared with just $31.50 for Florida.

"We're not trying to say that southern states shouldn't receive this type of assistance," says John Schadl, communications director for Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn. "But when it's 20 or 30 below and your heat goes out, you die."

The Department of Energy favors more funds for cold climates because the nation's consumers spend 14 percent more on heating than on cooling.

The department "is studying the formula to make sure there is an appropriate balance between warm- and cold-weather states," spokeswoman Chris Kielich says. "But there is so much money out there from the stimulus that if someone gets in the queue, it's a good chance they'll get weatherization."

Any change in the formula would have to be approved by Congress.

The money goes toward everything from caulking windows and doors to energy-efficient heating and cooling systems. Generally, it flows to local non-profit organizations that contract out much of the work.

Eligibility under the stimulus plan applies to households making up to twice the U.S. poverty threshold. For a family of four, eligibility would cover those making up to $44,100.

The maximum benefit per household is $6,500.

The need for help in Florida is growing, according to the Central Florida Community Action Agency. The non-profit, which serves three counties, usually weatherizes about 20 homes a year, leaving up to 60 on a waiting list. Factoring in stimulus money, it may be able to upgrade more than 200 homes, weatherization director Mark Taylor says.

Sources: Department of Energy, Census Bureau, ProPublica research