ND lawmakers reject $19 million in federal funding for weatherization assistance

ND lawmakers reject $19 million in federal funding for weatherization assistance

Maria Effertz Hanson of the State Community Services Division testifies before the Budget Section’s interim hearing,

BISMARCK, ND (KFGO) — Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle squabbled yesterday during a hearing on the Interim Budget section over the authorization of federal funding to support the relief package for North Dakota weatherization. The effort to bring the state an additional $19 million of Infrastructure and Jobs Act money failed in a 15-18 vote, despite a number of Republicans standing joined Democrats on the committee in support.

Outgoing Senate Majority Leader, Republican Rich Wardner of Dickinson, voted yes and led the bipartisan effort to authorize the funding.

“It goes all the way, helping people weatherproof their homes – low-income people. I think it’s important to get the money there as soon as possible,” Wardner said.

The Community Services Division within the state Department of Commerce administers the program, working with eight regional community service agencies. The program aims to increase the energy efficiency of homes owned or occupied by low-income residents, reduce energy expenditures, and improve home health and safety. Each household is visited by an energy auditor who decides which conservation measures will be most effective for the home, ranging from insulation and new windows and doors to installing or repairing heating units and air conditioner.

The funding authorization would not have required any sort of matching dollars from the state.

House Appropriations Chairman, Republican Jeff Delzer of Underwood, led the opposition in authorizing the money.

“There was talk of the federal government…you know, ‘if we don’t take it, it might go back.’ Well, you know, you know what: we’re in pretty good shape in this state, and maybe it’s time to start sending money back to the feds and then ask them to put that against the debt reduction, because our federal government is driving inflation with a lot of those funds,” Delzer said.

Some opponents said it was inappropriate to allow this kind of funding in the interim and that the entire legislature should have a chance to review it. Others, like Republican Rep. Keith Kempenich of Bowman, suggested the funding would come with requirements to focus on conservation rather than bloat.

“I guess there are a lot of little hooks here coming from the feds on how this money is being used,” Kempenich said.

Maria Effertz Hanson is the head of the state’s Community Services Division. She said that while the dollars might not be available later, her team would try again during the regular session of the legislature to secure additional funding for the program, as there is an opportunity to serve more North Dakotans in need.

“Those dollars are sitting there ready to be taken. If we don’t take them, another entity somewhere else would probably use them, but that would mean fewer opportunities to help communities. All (funding) goes to helping local people in need, bringing in local contractors and reducing heating costs, so ultimately we don’t need as much in our communities with individuals, and we have better homes,” she says.

House Minority Leader, Democrat Josh Boschee of Fargo, said the funding rejection was a disappointing missed opportunity.

“I work in real estate. Not only has this program directly improved people’s quality of life – whether it’s my neighbors or clients I’ve worked with – but I can tell you that it has improved their homes, so it’s an asset that can also be transferred to another owner and supported in our community. While I understand there might be a philosophical difference in that it’s federal money that we may not be asking for, it’s money that’s coming to us and if we don’t ‘t agree he’ll go somewhere else so why not take care of North Dakotans and our neighborhoods and communities here when we can…why would we give this back so Minnesota or California or Nebraska can get this money because we rejected it? Boschee said in a ground statement.

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