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How it sounds vs. How it really works, Part II

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In this earlier post [2], I referenced an AP story that the “cash for caulker” weatherizing program that was part of the stimulus wasn’t working quite the way it sounds. Today comes a story from the WSJ [3] that digs deeper into why the program has taken so long to be effective:

The Motor City has lots of drafty houses and tens of thousands of unemployed people. So when Congress proposed spending $5 billion to insulate homes as part of the stimulus bill, Detroit got excited. The director of the city agency managing the program advertised for construction companies before the legislation even passed.

But on the same day in March 2009 that Shenetta Coleman picked up applications from 46 companies, she received an email from the Michigan Department of Human Services telling her she couldn’t award work to anyone.

The problem: Ms. Coleman hadn’t met requirements for her advertisement. Those included specifying the precise wages that contractors would have to pay, and posting the advertisement on a specific website. There were other rules—federal, state and local—for grant and contract-award processes, historic preservation and labor standards.

The bureaucratic obstacles Ms. Coleman hit took more than a year to clear. Some were mandated by the stimulus bill, the same legislation that was supposed to rapidly create jobs. For example, there is a union-backed provision that requires that weatherization workers receive the prevailing wages in the area.

Eighteen months after the bill was signed into law, Michigan has weatherized 10,194 homes with stimulus dollars. It has 23,216 more to go before it meets its target.

The earlier AP story talked more about how badly trained the workers were who did the weatherizing and how shoddy some of the work was. But the delay in implementation is interesting in and of itself. The WSJ story also has this interesting semi-fact:

Groups can spend up to $6,500 for each house they weatherize, and the work reduces the homeowner’s energy bill by $437 a year on average, according to Energy Department estimates.

Fifteen years seems like a pretty long payback period. That may explain why these houses (and mine for that matter) weren’t weatherized already. I also wonder if the $437 is accurate.

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