At least keep the RGGI safety net
A critical source of cash to help low-income households weatherize their homes will be lost if the New Hampshire Legislature continues to hobble or kill RGGI, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. The House has voted to kill RGGI altogether and the Senate has passed legislation to weaken it. Both bills would eliminate funds that are currently being used to help towns and school districts, businesses and nonprofit organizations pay for energy-efficiency improvements. Both bills would eliminate one of the most important sections of the current RGGI statute: its allocation of at least 10 percent of RGGI funds to weatherize homes owned or rented by low-income households.Almost 14 percent of New Hampshire’s residents live below the poverty line. Paying for heat is a huge challenge for them. Some will receive support through the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, and some will receive federal weatherization assistance to make permanent improvements to their homes. Permanent efficiency gains can help people pay their bills, keep their homes, and perhaps get out of poverty.But federal energy programs are shrinking. In FY 2008 — before the stimulus package — Congress appropriated $237 million for the Department of Energy’s weatherization program. The administration is now proposing just $139 million nationwide for FY 2013 — a 41 percent reduction. It’s too early to know how much weatherization money will flow to New Hampshire but the pressure on Congress to cut spending is huge and likely to mean reductions in federal funds here.So keeping RGGI’s funding focused on low-income households matters.RGGI money is currently weatherizing approximately 425 manufactured homes across the state. New Hampshire’s Community Action Agencies are doing the work. They’ve already helped households in Berlin, Concord, and Plymouth, and are working this spring in Exeter, Allenstown, Hinsdale, Manchester, Rochester, Ossipee, Lancaster and Groveton. All of the households have incomes that qualify them for federal fuel assistance; priority is given to seniors, veterans, people with disabilities, and households with young children.New Hampshire law directs the Public Utilities Commission to invest the state’s share of RGGI funds in energy-efficiency projects, including the 10 percent set aside for projects benefiting low-income households. The commission’s award of $2 million for manufactured housing communities helped the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund secure an additional $600,000 from the U.S. Department of Energy.Meanwhile, the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority is using a $2 million grant from RGGI to help weatherize apartments rented by low-income households throughout the state.These two grants will have a profoundly beneficial impact on a few hundred households, while also permanently reducing the need for other public supports and New Hampshire’s overall reliance on imported oil. It’s a great example of what New Hampshire can accomplish when it invests in permanent solutions.The Census reports that there are more than 18,000 households in New Hampshire with incomes below the poverty level. Our safety net for these folks – 13.8 percent of the population – is pretty small. Let’s keep what we’ve got, including a RGGI program capable of weatherizing hundreds of homes every year.Rick Minard is vice president for policy and programs at the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund in Concord.