Interfaith Housing Services Saves Lives, Improves Health, and Reduces Energy Burdens

IHS’s WAP replaced the hot water tank venting dangerous CO levels back into the attic in the Garcia’s home pictured above, and followed up with weatherization.  Ms. Garcia has since been able to save $120 per month in medications she no longer needs, in addition to energy savings. The Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) has a long history of dramatically reducing energy bills for low-income families. An often unsung component of the program, however, is the careful approach WAP takes to ensure the health and safety of its clients. The WAP agency, Interfaith Housing Services, Inc. (IHS), serving 25 counties in southwestern Kansas, recently put those benefits in the spotlight. The Garcia family requested IHS’s WAP services because of their high energy bills, unaware of the health and safety precautions that IHS would take to ensure their well-being. Upon the initial inspection of the home, IHS discovered that the hot water tank vented back into their attic, spilling life-threatening levels of carbon monoxide, at nearly 100 times the level which is considered safe, into the air they breathed. After calling one of their WAP contractors, workers replaced the hot water tank and provided the Garcia’s with more health and safety improvements, such as carbon monoxide and smoke detectors in addition to energy-saving measures. Ms. Garcia had been on multiple medications for depression, and doctors were unable to figure out the root cause. After IHS’s visit, Ms. Garcia visited her doctor who was surprised to find her health significantly improved. Ms. Garcia explained that she received WAP services along with a replacement hot water tank for one that had been emitting dangerous CO levels in her home. The doctor realized that he had been misdiagnosing her depression for years. As a result of receiving WAP services and the other healthy home improvements, Ms. Garcia was able to stop taking five different medications, saving her $120 in medical costs per month. In addition the Garcia’s reduced their energy bills, saving them money they can now put toward other necessities, as well as their carbon footprint. IHS uses diverse funding sources  to provide health and safety measures that Department of Energy (DOE) funds, their core financial backing for WAP, cannot address in deferred WAP homes. IHS currently uses up to $3,000 per home in Federal Home Loan Bank (FHLB) funds to correct a host of health and safety issues in homes preventing weatherization, and, in the past year, installed expanded health and safety measures in four homes that were followed up with WAP services. Additionally, IHS links deferred WAP clients with its in-house Creating Assets, Savings, and Hope (CASH) program, which incentivizes savings by matching clients with $2 for every $1 saved in an individual development account. After saving enough money, clients can afford health and safety measures that DOE funds cannot address, thus allowing WAP services to proceed. The services IHS provided to the Garcia family show the true impact WAP can have in saving money, lives, and the environment. Further, IHS’s creative blending of funds using in-house programs has helped improve health and reduce energy burdens on low-income families. Community Action Agencies providing WAP services and similar in-house programs can look toward IHS in fashioning an effective Weatherization Plus Health approach.