Climate change impacts Americans at all levels of society, but most climate impacts hit marginalized communities the hardest. Low-income communities – which, due to systemic and structural inequalities, are disproportionately made up of people of color – are most vulnerable as they often lack the financial capacity to cope with the added cost of responding to impacts like extreme weather events, extreme heat, and flooding. Additionally, low-income communities already face high energy cost burdens due to lack of access to energy efficiency improvements like insulation from heat and cold. At the same time, the buildings sector accounts for roughly 29 percent of the U.S.’ emissions. This makes decarbonizing the sector crucial to decarbonizing the American economy.
To address these twin challenges in the residential sector, the Department of Energy (DOE) administers programs such as the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) and the Clean Energy for Low Income Communities Accelerator (CELICA), which provide resources to deliver home energy efficiency improvements and renewable energy resources to low- and moderate-income families. These programs have both helped households reduce their energy costs and spurred job creation. The current economic and environmental realities mean that programs like these are going to become even more essential as communities grapple with the economic and public health fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Making Communities More Resilient Through the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP)
WAP provides grants to states, tribes, and territories, who work with local nonprofits, agencies, and governments to provide home energy efficiency improvements to low-income families. The improvements save households money both by reducing energy costs and boosting the community’s economy through the employment of local workers. Energy efficiency improvements also fight climate change by cutting emissions. For communities, improved economic health can help build resilience to future threats like climate impacts and even pandemics.
WAP funds energy audits and diagnostic equipment to identify the most cost-effective ways to boost building energy efficiency, which can also address health and safety concerns in some cases. WAP can also be a useful tool in reducing unemployment and improving income stability. In 2008, WAP helped support 8,600 jobs that generated $476 million in wages.
Between 1976 and 2016, WAP weatherized 7 million homes. Since the beginning of the program, it is estimated that WAP has saved participating households an average of $283 annually in energy costs. Weatherization improvements supported by WAP also reduced the number of days participants missed work due to health issues, preventing approximately $583/year in lost wages and an average of $514/year in additional out of pocket medical expenses. By weatherizing 40,000 homes a year, WAP generates roughly $55 million in annual energy, wage, and health benefits for these communities. A study done by Oak Ridge National Laboratory found that, in addition to saving households money, WAP can also reduce emissions by up to two million metric tons of CO2 annually.