Monday, August 10, 2009

Tracking The Stimulus: Wage Issue Forces Weatherization Wait

The largest community action organization in the area says some stimulus weatherization work has been slow to get started due to a delayed decision about what laborers should be paid for the work.
Missouri is getting $128 million in economic stimulus dollars to weatherize 21,000 homes of low-income and senior residents. To date, $1.6 million dollars has trickled out to the community agencies tasked with completing the projects.
In Willard, workers from the Ozarks Area Community Action Corporation (OACAC) are checking where air is seeping through the windows and doors of Geneva Noll's 37-year-old home. A senior surviving on social security, Noll is one of the first beneficiaries of the massive weatherization project.
"Anything to help my utilities, I'm eager to do because I about bought them out of duct tape," Noll jokes, adding that her energy bill shot up $100 dollars last month.
OACAC is expected to weatherize 1,265 homes in a 10-county Ozarks region over the next three years, courtesy of stimulus money.
But it's also been wrestling with a government bureaucracy that they say has been slow to deal with details needed to ramp up.
"We hear all the talk about money being made available. For various reasons, it's been slow to get out," said OACAC executive director Carl Rosenkranz.
"It's been a bit frustrating. We've learned about this money a long time ago and it's been hurry up and wait," said weatherization director Todd Steinmann.
OACAC has received $428,000 so far. That's about 10 percent of the total stimulus dollars the agency will receive over three years.
"This is the most money weatherization has ever seen," notes Steinmann.
They have used it to purchase new office space, seven new vehicles and add 15 new employees for the work ahead.
But Rosenkranz said that federal and state officials have been too slow to determine which wage rates need to be paid to those doing the work. State prevailing wage rates are generally higher. Federal prevailing wage rates are lower.
For instance, the state hourly rate for a bricklayer is $32.10, according to the Missouri Division of Labor Standards. The federal rate is $11.92.
"We've hired contractors, we can't start them until the issue is resolved, because we don't know what the prevailing wage should be for contractors," Rosenkranz explained.
Last week, a few days after a KY3 inquiry, OACAC finally got its answer in a Department of Natural Resources memo.
"Mark Templeton, Director of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, just informed our office that Missouri will be using the federal Davis-Bacon Wage Rates rather than Missouri's State Prevailing Wage Rates," wrote Marcy Oerly of DNR's Energy Center in a memo to weatherization directors around the state.
"Most importantly, please start using the (stimulus) funding immediately and begin weatherizing homes!," Oerly went on in the memo that Rosenkranz said he received Thursday, August 6th.
Ky3 News inquired about the weatherization wage issue on Wednesday, August 5th.
Oerly also said a new federal "weatherization worker" wage rate would be released on August 14th.
A decision had been made, but Rosenkranz said it was delayed, calling the wait "extremely frustrating."
"A lot of these things occurred without due consideration to what rules and regulations would need to be put in place to run the programs," Rosenkranz said.
"I know February 17th was the day the bill was signed, but here it is the end of July, and we're still not totally there to the point where we're going to be fully active and weatherizing as many homes as we can in the time period," Rosenkranz said.
When asked why it took so long for the state to determine a wage rate, a spokesman for Gov. Jay Nixon's office said the state was "waiting for federal guidance."
This wage ruling will now allow OACAC to get more workers into the homes of people like Geneva Noll, who is a beneficiary and skeptic of the stimulus at the same time.
"It's better than some of those airports they built," she said, with a laugh.
"Hopefully, very soon we'll have everything laid out and we can get more homes weatherized," Steinmann said.
To watch our first Tracking the Stimulus report on funds at Stockton Lake, click HERE.

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