By Lesley Weidenbener
INDIANAPOLIS - The state has weatherized 20,000 homes using federal stimulus funding - a goal it reached five months earlier than projected - and has money left over for as many as 3,000 more projects.
Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman made the announcement Wednesday at the Indianapolis home of Steven Foster, a cleaning company owner who was eligible for the state's weatherization program because he qualified for federal heating assistance.
Foster's home received a new furnace, water heater, attic insulation, and air sealing around windows and doors. The project was completed by the Wisconsin Energy Conservation Corporation with additional funding from Citizens Gas and Indianapolis Power and Light Company.
"Without that, I'm not sure how we would have been able to move into this home," Foster said. The previous owner had shut off of the water heater completely because it was considered too dangerous to use, he said.
"We appreciate all that has been done for us here," Foster said.
The Wisconsin Energy Conservation Corporation was among more than two dozen contractors and organizations that signed up to provide the services under a program developed by the state.
Many of those groups had provided weatherization to clients for years under an existing state program. But in a somewhat controversial move, Gov. Mitch Daniels opted to open up the stimulus money to other companies and organizations that were looking for work.
Skillman said Wednesday that the program helped create or maintain jobs across the state. She also said a federal audit showed the program had no "material problems."
"Nationwide, this program has been a magnet for waste, fraud, and abuse, but in Indiana we did it right," Skillman said in a statement. "We reached our goal five months early, we saved money allowing us to complete additional homes, and abuse is nonexistent."
Indiana reached its goal ahead of schedule in part because Indiana provided comprehensive training to participating contractors to ensure the work was done correctly, state officials said. Also, the state instituted bulk purchasing for all contractors, which saved money on weatherization materials, and imposed a $5,000 per home limit, rather than the federally-recommended $6,500 limit.
Homeowners who receive weatherization services see a 20 percent to 30 percent decrease in their heating and cooling costs.
"We have clearly made a difference in the lives of Hoosiers," Skillman said.
The above is one of an ongoing series of reports from the Indiana Statehouse by students at the Franklin College Pulliam School of Journalism.