Winter finally seems to be winding down, but a Howard County-based program is still working to help families cut down on energy bills this year and in the future.
The Weatherization Assistance Program, run by the Community Action Council of Howard County, recently received grants worth $819,000 from the Maryland Energy Administration, according to program officials, and will add those funds to its existing program to help families curb energy bills.
Gary Christopher, director of the weatherization program, said the state grants are earmarked for specific outreach efforts — $90,000 for weatherization projects in Howard County; $500,000 for work in specific moderate-income housing developments; and the remainder for projects in neighboring Carroll, Anne Arundel and Frederick counties.
The program, which also receives assistance from the U.S. Department of Energy, generally helps low- and moderate-income families save money by having contractors render services such as window sealing and insulation. Through the program, energy efficient appliances such as heat pumps, refrigerators and freezers can also be replaced.
"The goal is to cut electricity costs by at least 15 percent," he said.
Christopher said the added funding will help the program reach more residents. Typically, the program aids between 175 and 200 families each year.
Weatherization is just one program administered by the Community Action Council of Howard County. Several initiatives are related to energy and housing, including assistance to individuals and families with electric and heating bills; one-time grants to help prevent evictions; assistance for people with first month's rent; and help with receiving assistance from the Fuel Fund of Maryland.
The council also promotes Head Start for school readiness and the Howard County Food Bank.
Winter is a busy time for the weatherization and energy programs — particularly for those seeking direct energy assistance funds — but Christopher said the weatherization program also fields calls throughout the year.
"We do get a lot of calls when it's cold, of course, but we do this program year-round," he said, noting that contractors who work with the program take on projects in the spring and summer.
For weatherization help, applicants must be income eligible and able to prove ownership of the housing unit. For rental units, landlords must prove ownership, sign an agreement permitting the improvements to be done — and pledge not to increase rent to income-qualified families for a specified period of time.
According to guidelines on the program website, priority is given to residents who are elderly, disabled, have families with young children and have the highest electric bills.
Christopher said that while the focus of the program is on families of moderate means, "we really have a program for every income group."
Kathleen True, a program assistant, works with the families who receive weatherization assistance. "They're just so grateful," she said. "This really helps them save money."
"We do get a lot of positive feedback," Christopher agreed. Some families, he said, "don't have anywhere else to turn."