WONDERING whether the Obama administration knows what it’s doing as it seeks to remake American health care? Consider a far smaller idea that the White House pushed as a no-brainer earlier this year: The Weatherization Assistance Program is proving a perfect example of noble intentions gone awry.
A child of the 1970s fuel crisis, WAP was designed to help poor Americans reduce their home energy consumption. As part of the stimulus bill, Obama and Congress are pouring $5 billion into the program — a nearly 10-fold increase in funding.
It was sold as a vehicle for job creation, an investment in the environment and a means for low-income Americans to lower their heating costs. But it’s a failure on every count.
Here’s how it works: If you’re eligible, the government will pay to weatherstrip your doors, insulate your walls and ceilings, fix your windows and, in some cases, buy you a new refrigerator and heating system — all for free. You just have to sign up with a local community-action group, which will send over workers to do the repairs.
It’s proving a rip-off — the government is spending a fortune for each household that benefits. A quarter of the money is squandered on a vast bureaucracy of regulatory field staff, administrators and training. Also inflating the costs are prevailing-wage mandates and provisions that encourage states to spend the most money on the fewest homes.
With $400 million, New York state intends to repair 45,000 units, or nearly $9,000 a home.