FORT WAYNE – Evelyn Escobedo, 73, and her husband, Elias, who is in poor health, live in a drafty, poorly insulated house near downtown Fort Wayne. At times the gas bill for their modest home has been $200 a month.
But, hopefully, that will change this winter.
Escobedo’s home was recently winterized by Community Action of Northeast Indiana. The crew worked three days, installing insulation and conducting other energy-saving measures.
Although millions of stimulus dollars that helped people winterize their homes has dried up, assistance with weatherizing and utility bills is still available, said Pam Brookshire, CANI’s director of community services.
Escobedo, who had heard about the program from a friend and was put on a waiting list over a year ago, was thrilled.
The nice people and good crew insulated the entire home, including attic, basement and pipes. They also installed a larger, more accessible attic door in the hallway, a new exhaust fan in the bathroom and a new filter receptacle on the furnace and gave them a supply of new filters, Escobedo said.
They plugged holes as they found them and repaired Escobedo’s gas stove, which was found to have two leaks.
It feels warmer already, Escobedo said.
About 15 percent of the annual funding for the Energy Assistance Program is reserved for helping people winterize their homes, Brookshire said.
We do a lot of insulation and checking appliances to make sure they are working properly, Brookshire said. We don’t do windows or doors.
The CANI office has already received calls for assistance with heating bills, Brookshire said.
Last year, CANI helped about 9,000 families with their utility bills, which was atypical because of the unseasonably warm weather, Brookshire said. This year, the agency is planning to help between 11,000 and 12,000 families, she said.
CANI, which serves six counties in northeast Indiana, received $1.1 million last year for the program. Final numbers are not yet available, but Brookshire estimates the agency will get about $700,000 to $800,000 this year.
The funds are split between 24 Hoosier agencies by the Indianapolis-based Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority.
Donna Wright, deputy director of the authority’s energy programs, said it, too, is anxiously awaiting those final numbers, which should be in any day now.
Congress usually passes a continuing resolution that indicates what each state’s share will be, but that hasn’t happened.
The Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority went ahead and allocated $15 million for the agencies to get started, Wright said.
She has no idea if it will be getting more or less than the $64 million received last year, she said.
The funds are distributed by local community action agencies as a one-time assistance payment for homeowners, and the average payment was about $233 for each of the 134,390 families served, Wright said.
This year, the maximum payment any client can receive was increased to $385, she said.
About $133 million in stimulus money received in 2009 and allocated through March of this year is gone. But most agencies, like CANI, reserve a portion of their funding for weatherization, Wright said.
On the plus side for residential gas customers, heating bills are projected to be the lowest in a decade, slightly below last winter’s bills, according to a written statement by NIPSCO officials.
NIPSCO looks at weather predictions, market forecasts, supply trends and storage opportunities to calculate a winter bill projection. The prediction is assuming the area will experience normal winter temperatures.
While winter bill amounts are projected to be relatively flat compared to last winter, the company expects usage amounts to be slightly higher. Last winter’s usage amounts were lower than normal due to unseasonably warmer temperatures.