The DNR says it’s going to be able to do a lot more with the low income weatherization program this year. That’s no surprise, since its budget has skyrocketed thanks to $127 million in stimulus money.

 The $127 million is more 10 times the amount the low-income weatherization program usually spends in a given year. Dru Buntin with the DNR told providers at a hearing in Jefferson City they decided to put 60% of that toward the traditional low income weatherization programs at regional offices throughout the state.

“We also carved out 20% for performance-based to make sure the high performers were provided additional funding. Those that are out there really getting homes weatherized; that we set aside incentive funds for them. The purpose of the hearing today was for the remaining 20%, which was really, we were looking for innovative approaches,” Buntin said.

That 20% amounts to about 26 million dollars, which he says would be used to work on projects with entities they usually didn’t interact with in the past.  

“That includes anything from cooperative efforts with utilities and electric co-ops, municipalities, other funding sources that might be able to do things such as roof repair. Those are not allowable uses of weatherization funding, really to get more bang for the buck for the citizens that are eligible,” Buntin said.

The idea is to leverage the existing funds that are out there, like block grants and utility funds, to more efficiently use the federal funds.

Jessica Hawkins with the City of O’Fallon was at the hearing. It’s the first time the municipality’s been involved with these programs. Before, they’d relied on a regional agency to offer these services.

Unfortunately their programs on a large scale, they’ve got a year waiting list. Now that we’ve got our own funding specifically for O’Fallon, we can target them and get the help to them a lot faster,” Hawkins said.

The plan still needs to still be approved by the federal government, But the DNR does not think that will be a problem.

The programs will also be available to many more people than it was before, as the income requirement rises to 200% of the poverty level in some programs. That’s an income of less than $44,000 for a family of four.

AUDIO: Ryan Famuliner reports (:63 mp3)