By ROB MORITZ
Arkansas News Bureau
LITTLE ROCK — Stimulus-funded weatherization programs have had financial issues in some state, but not in Arkansas.
Last year, waste and fraud were found in a federal audit of Illinois’ stimulus-funded weatherization program.
A state audit of Tennessee’s program also found waste and abuse, and the state of Delaware suspended its program after reports of fraud and mismanagement of funds.
Other states have had similar problems, but Arkansas’ program has enjoyed success with nearly 5,000 homes weatherized since the money began flowing in 2009, and 143 jobs created.
The $48.1 million the state received also has been used to fund weatherization training centers at Pulaski Technical College in Little Rock and Northwest Arkansas Community College, and to purchase high-efficiency air conditioning systems, clothes washers and water heaters for some people who could not afford them otherwise.
"It has been a success," Beverly Palmer, manager of the Central Arkansas Development Council’s weatherization program, said. "We have been able to serve a lot of people and employ a number of people."
Eldred Grant, who had his mobile home in Wynne weatherized in August, called it "a blessing," saying he and his wife, Lagail, are raising their two great-grandchildren — 5 and 13 — and could not afford the needed improvements.
The improvements included replacing windows, caulking and weather stripping doors and windows, insulating ceilings, walls, floors and windows and cleaning the heating system.
"It was like angels working in our home," Lagail Grant said, adding the work was done by the Crowley’s Ridge Development Council, Inc.
"The work CRDC did for us was like giving us our life back," Lagail said. "Our mobile home is our home. Thanks to CRDC ... we can live in our home and provide for our two great-grandchildren."
Part of President Obama’s $787 billion federal stimulus program included $50 billion for states to use for home weatherization projects and programs designed to reduce energy costs and lay the groundwork for future energy independence.
According to the Arkansas Department of Human Services, which is overseeing the state’s share of the funding, about $43 million has been distributed to 15 community action agencies for weatherization programs. As of Sept. 30, 4,868 homes had been weatherized, with 5,578 expected to be completed when the program ends on March 31, 2012.
About $6.5 million of the funds have been spent on training and technical assistance, and $748,681 has been spent on administration, mainly for monitoring the program and ensuring compliance.
DHS spokeswoman Amy Webb said last week that the stimulus funding is in addition to $6.1 million the state already spends annually on state weatherization programs. More families are being reached as a result of the infusion of funds, she said.
"Normally we do about 1,000 houses a year (statewide) and with the (stimulus) money we’re up to about 2,500," said Mark Whitmer, executive director of the Crawford-Sebastian Community Development Council, Inc.
In honor of energy awareness month, Whitmer was host of an event Friday commemorating the state’s weatherization program. Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola read a proclamation and one signed by Gov. Mike Beebe also was read.
Larry Cogburn, executive director of the Central Arkansas Development Council, said in an interview that stimulus funds have allowed 921 homes to be weatherized in the 12 counties covered by his council. Those counties are Calhoun, Clark, Columbia, Dallas, Hot Spring, Lonoke, Montgomery, Ouachita, Pike, Pulaski, Saline and Union.
"We pray that this program keeps going," Lagail Grant said. "There are so many low-income families ... or are elderly people and they do not have funds to furnish their homes up. We also have many single mothers who need their homes improved."
The program, which expires at the end of March, is available to low-income Arkansans who are below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.