Insulation funding raises social issues

Friday, February 20, 2009

A socio-economic question was raised during an informational session for Marshall County ministers and church laymen Tuesday night when the subject was weatherization, a federal program to insulate homes for low income people and thereby reduce household bills.

The weatherization program is administered by the South Central Human Resources Agency that has offices on Old Columbia Highway, but it was the program's regional director from Fayetteville who explained insulation can be applied to owner-occupied homes and rental units.

That prompted a question from Corey Smith who's active with the Petersburg Church of Christ.

"If the landlord has got the money to fix it," Smith asked about rental properties that could be improved through the program, "why are we spending federal money to help deadbeat landlords?"

Seated next to Smith was Wayne Morgan who replied among some 30 people in the Lewisburg Gas Department's community room: "It helps the renter."

Smith continued: "We all know the efficiency of the federal government."

Emily Satterfield, director of the agency's weatherization program, concurred and gave another reason.

"The federal government says I can't discriminate against tenants," Satterfield said. "The applicant qualifies the unit and not the unit."

Satterfield's explanation to the group assembled on a request from the Marshall County Ministerial Association continued on particulars of how the agency can help reduce heating and cooling bills through more efficient housing.

Later, she and Smith made other comments.

"There are a lot of people who resent that renters are qualified and I do hear a lot of that," Satterfield said. "But we don't discriminate against renters from homeowners. However, the renter has to get the homeowner's permission."

The Ministerial Association sought to gather clergymen and women so they could better understand the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and the weatherization program. LIHEAP provides money to pay heating and cooling bills for people who are found to be unable to pay under certain guidelines. The weatherization program seeks to make those payments last longer after a home is better insulated.

"I'm very excited about the interest in the weatherization program," Satterfield said.

She also noted that Smith has a right to his opinion, one which was qualified and limited to landlords who can afford to improve their rental properties, but don't.

"Slumlords use poor people to get their property improved," Smith said after the meeting.

Social programs can create a dependency in the recipients, he explained. That is counterproductive to the greater good.

The Rev. Steve Thomas of the Belfast Presbyterian Church commented Thursday when asked about the various views on weatherization for renters.

"It's not the poor people's fault that they're poor," Thomas said. "It is the landlord's fault that he's not motivated" to provide housing that's appropriately insulated.

"Society's position, the church's position, is that people deserve decent housing and the government is the actor of last resort," the Presbyterian minister said. "This is the prime example of taking money and making it pay over the long haul... saving money for poor people. Those improvements will far outlast one month's heating bill."

During his first press conference, President Barack Obama mentioned weatherization, saving federal funding and creating jobs for people who are paid to install insulation.

"That's the kind of investment that I think Obama has been talking about," Thomas said. "These are in the same category of jobs training programs. It's not training people, but it's equipping structures.

"This is one (program) that has been around (for decades) and the last time I saw it funded was when Reagan was around," Thomas said. "I think it initially came out of the Great Society programs" initiated by the Johnson Administration.

That historical perspective reminded Thomas of the effects of the oil embargo of the 1970s and the need to conserve energy.

"The times bring about the currentness of social programs," he said.