State lags in use of stimulus for energy projects

Two years into a three-year program, Missouri has yet to spend most of the money it was allotted under a federal economic stimulus program intended to make homes more energy efficient for low-income residents.

Missouri received nearly $129 million in low-income home weatherization funds under the 2009 stimulus act. As of the end of January, just $47 million of that — or 37 percent of the total — had been spent, according to figures from the Department of Natural Resources.

Department Deputy Director Dru Buntin said Tuesday that it took a while for some community agencies to get ramped up to handle the enlarged weatherization program. Before the stimulus act, Missouri’s program had received about $4 million to $6 million annually from the federal government, he said.

Buntin said the percentage of money spent so far is lagging behind what the department expected, and the agency is reallocating some of the unspent money to local agencies that have been more successful in using it. The agency said it faces a federal deadline of March 31, 2012, to spend the money.

Some Republicans on the Senate Appropriations Committee suggested Tuesday that it may already be too late for the money to accomplish its purpose of stimulating the economy.

“We can’t find any poor people in Missouri that will qualify to use this money?” Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis, asked during a committee hearing on a bill that would allow the state to spend the money in the fiscal year that starts July 1. “We’re that inefficient?”

Lembke is one of several Republican senators who have stalled action this year on bills to spend federal money, suggesting Missouri should take a symbolic stand against federal deficits by rejecting stimulus-style money for education and unemployment benefits. Other lawmakers have noted that if Missouri were to reject the federal money it likely would be redistributed to other states and not used to pay the federal debt.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Kurt Schaefer, a former legal counsel at the Department of Natural Resources, said the agency shouldn’t be faulted for low use of the low-income weatherization money. But he questioned whether the federal government had poured more money into the program than was necessary.

“The public policy behind some of this stuff is baffling — absolutely baffling,” Schaefer said.

The program helps pay the costs of energy efficiency audits and of home improvements such as the installation of insulation and tuneups for heating and air conditioning systems, which can save residents money on their monthly energy bills. The program is open to people earning up to twice the federal poverty level, which would be $21,780 for an individual or $44,700 for a family of four.

Lawmaker taken to hospital from Capitol

A Missouri House member from the St. Louis area has been taken to the hospital after suffering chest pains while at the Capitol.

The House suspended debate Tuesday while medical personnel attended to Democratic Rep. Sylvester Taylor, of Black Jack. He was removed on a stretcher and taken to a local hospital.

House Minority Leader Mike Talboy said Taylor was conscious and stable when he left.

The House adjourned for the day shortly after Taylor’s medical emergency.

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