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OACAC terminates dozens of jobs as federal stimulus funds run out

The money paid for making homes more energy efficient.

January 19, 2012|by Emily Wood, KY3 News | ewood@ky3.com

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- More than two dozen workers were terminated from a regional program that helps weatherize the homes of low-income families and seniors living on fixed incomes in the Ozarks.  The 10-county program is federally funded, and the workers were hired using money from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act. 

The Weatherization Program, run by the Ozarks Area Community Action Corporation, has always been federally-funded.  In earlier years, the program employed 12 crew members.  Federal stimulus dollars allowed the program director to hire more than 80 additional crew members, starting in 2009. 

The crews help low-income families make their homes more energy efficient by doing things like replacing furnaces, adding insulation and caulking, and teaching families how to keep up with improvements on their own.

"We had a gas leak that we didn't know about and they came out and condemned it and told us we did need a new furnace," said Jennifer Welch, a homeowner in north Springfield.

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"Thanks to OACAC, we got us a new one," Welch said.

Welch and her husband, John, have lived in the same home close to 40 years.  The Welches are one of dozens of families to see their home get some much-needed updates.

"They're thankful.  They understand they need the program and that it helps them.  They know it'll help reduce their energy costs," said John Barnhart, a weatherization crew member with OACAC.

In years past, Ozarks-based weatherization crews updated 250 homes in a ten-county-wide area every year.  The 2009 stimulus money allowed OACAC to expand.  For the last couple years, crews have been repairing and updating 250 homes in the region every month.

"Anytime that you can get back out and be a part of the work force, especially something like this.  I've always been in a sales-oriented business, and getting out and helping people is definitely rewarding," said Barnhart. 

Barnhart was with the same company for eleven years before being laid off.  He was out of work for six months before getting hired on with OACAC.  But after just nine months, Barnhart's position is one of dozens in jeopardy.

"I don't want to be laid off.  I enjoy this job a lot.  I don't want to have to get back out into look for something else again," said Barnhart.

Carl Rosenkranz, OACAC's executive director, said Gov. Jay Nixon has the power to transfer unused money from the state's Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) to the weatherization program.

"We need to know quickly in order to better plan how to keep jobs preserve jobs," said Rosenkranz.  "We're trying to help people improve their quality of life and that's why the decision on the LIHEAP money needs to be made quickl."

The Missouri Department of Social Services oversees the LIHEAP budget.  Seth Bundi, a communications employee with the department, said the department is aware of the situation, and staffers there are reviewing it.  Bundi said he could not answer whether the money transfer is a possibility.  Bundi also said the Department of Social Services is facing a reduction in funding.

A spokesman for Nixon's office referred a reporter's questions about the funding issues to the Department of Social Services.

The jobs of 27 of the OACAC weatherization crew members were terminated on Thursday.  Rosenkranz said he will have to wait for Nixon and other state leaders to make a decision on LIHEAP funding, before he can determine when additional weatherization jobs may be terminated.
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