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CAPC to help fewer families with weatherization due to program cuts

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U.S. Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, D-N.Y., came to Northern New York on Friday to show her support for the federal weatherization program that has taken a hit in recent spending decisions.

The Community Action Planning Council of Jefferson County may be able to help only about 50 people weatherize their homes this year because of a nearly 40 percent decrease in weatherization funds.

CAPC is set to receive $366,000 for the federal Weatherization Assistance Program in 2013, a decrease of $234,325 from the $600,325 the agency received last year, according to CAPC Executive Director Melinda M. Gault.

“Hopefully, we won’t have to have any layoffs,” Ms. Gault said. “Right now, we have two crews of three people per crew.”

Those crews have been responsible for weatherizing about 100 homes per year through the program and through the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority’s EmPower program.

Ms. Gault said even though the agency received some weatherization funds through the federal stimulus package a few years ago, that money is gone and the waiting list has climbed back up to 350 households.

While tackling the list of weatherization needs in Jefferson County, such as new doors, insulation, furnaces and other improvements, will be more of a struggle now, Ms. Gault said, she is happy to have the senator in the agency’s corner fighting for more weatherization money in the federal fiscal year 2014 budget.

Mrs. Gillibrand spoke Friday at CAPC, 518 Davidson St., about the value of the program and the struggles it faces in Washington.

“Because this program has consistently been underfunded, there are 1,200 people on waiting lists in Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties,” she said. “We can all tell winter’s here. It’s been quite cold.”

Bad weather mixed with drafty homes or furnaces that don’t run properly, if at all, “means more families are suffering,” the senator said, especially when there’s a reduction in funding.

“Families don’t have extra funds to replace a boiler or windows,” Mrs. Gillibrand said.

That was the case with Christine L. Davenport, LaFargeville, who spoke Friday about how she’s happy she now can go home to a warm house, thanks to weatherization updates completed by a CAPC crew.

“Have you ever tried turning the page of a book with gloves?” she said. “We’re proud. We don’t like to ask” for help.

But she did in 2010, and after two years of being on the agency’s waiting list, she finally got the help she needed. Her old farmhouse had its windows and insulation replaced and door work done. Since the weatherization, she has cut her energy bill in half, from $700 to about $350 per month.

“Now we are not bundled up in our beds under blankets seeing our breath,” Miss Davenport said.

Andrew Stone, executive director of the state Weatherization Directors Association, said weatherization has come a long way and isn’t just wrapping plastic over windows anymore.

“Housing science is far more complex than people think it is,” he said.

Ms. Gault said weatherization funds are vital to low-income Jefferson County residents because they often have to choose between food, medicine and other household needs or heating purchases.

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