It is hard to put words to this past year. COVID-19 is still with us, and now in new ways the Delta variant and more recently the Omicron variant have made appearances that look to be long-term. Even so, multiple vaccines have received FDA approval and are being administered across the country to children as young as five, offering hope. Natural disasters ravaged the country with fires, hurricanes, floods, extreme heat and tornadoes taking lives, homes and in some cases whole communities. In the face of these tragedies people banded together to provide food, shelter, and comfort. It has been both a heart wrenching year and one that serves as a testament to the deep strength of humanity and community. We are reminded daily that the work of achieving economic security and energy efficiency in low-income communities is ever-changing and crucial to the health and resiliency of communities across the country.
Both CSBG and Weatherization networks remain resolute in their commitment and work to help low-income communities across the country. Because of this, individuals, families, and communities continue to receive critical services all while both networks have adapted to new safety measures, processes, expectations and perhaps most impactful of all, a new normal. This new normal continues to take shape around us and we continue to work to serve.
Throughout the year the NASCSP network has risen above expectations and despite the challenges inherent in an ongoing pandemic there is much to celebrate.
Community Services Block Grant State Offices took additional funding in stride, updating policies and procedures, developing and strengthening over 100,000 partnerships and connections, while continuing to center the work of poverty alleviation through it all, including spending more than 2 million hours on agency capacity building. State Offices and Subgrantees continued routine work and responded to natural disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes, extraordinary fires, floods and more
State Weatherization Offices stood up new safety procedures for providing on-site services and supported Subgrantees in identifying how work can be done carefully in this new normal. The heavy lift of adapting to new procedures was accomplished in the face of workforce recruitment and development challenges, supply chain disruptions and rising materials costs.
While it is evident that the Weatherization Assistance Program and CSBG provide critical services to low-income communities across the country, what we want to highlight today is the people who make these funding streams do their magic. It is each of YOU working to connect funding to the people who need it most, and the communities that will be able to spend more time focusing on their children, health and education, that make the real difference. Each of you bring a profound devotion to this work and we at NASCSP take great joy in being able to support you, the work you do and the communities you help through our work.
Over the year we have seen numerous staffing changes. This year we welcomed some great new talent and some role changes too. Mary Cousins, Jonathan Ballew, Britt Pomush and Lauren Johnson joined NASCSP and Hugh Poole, Muska Kamran, Raymond Thomas and Paige Milson moved into new roles within the agency. We were sad to see wonderful staff like Cindy Homol, Maribeth Schneber-Rhemrev, Ian Gray, Katy Kujawski and Donovan Harvey leave us but we are thrilled to have a whole new crew join us. We are currently in the process of hiring for a research analyst and look forward to being fully staffed in short order!
(L->R: Lauren Johnson, Jonathan Ballew, Raymond Thomas, Hugh Poole, Britt Pomush, Paige Milson. photo unavailable for Mary Cousins & Muska Kamran)
The work of NASCSP is broad but focused. We are always here for Training and Technical Assistance (TTA) requests, surveying members about areas of support, developing trainings, running working groups, standing up and hosting conferences, developing, and strengthening new partnerships and working to advocate for our members with folks on The Hill.
This year our staff have been busy responding to TTA requests from members to that end offering one-on-one support, developing, and executing specialized trainings, and fostering partnerships. Requests have included assistance with locating statutory or regulatory language, examples of other states policies, procedures and state plans, clarification of ongoing and upcoming legislative language and information about model practices from around the country. Requests can take anywhere from a few moments to months of planning, meeting, and evaluation to complete.
Work continues beyond responding to requests, with both Weatherization and CSBG staff surveying the membership on planning and use of funding (both new and ongoing), questions about new grant opportunities, needed areas of support and much more. Responding to our new normal both CSBG and Weatherization offered their new administrator orientation trainings virtually this year. Trainings ranging from data management to safe COVID protocols were offered and recently a much-anticipated four-part Coaching series began which will carry us into the new year.
There are several working groups that are running right now. Hugh and the CSBG team are running the State Management Work Group while Andrea and the Weatherization team keeps the Workforce Development Work Group moving forward at a steady clip. The Racial Equity Work Group (REWG) spans both CSBG and Weatherization and has been meeting regularly to address the role of equity in our day-to-day work, identify promising practices and continually centering conversations about race. The REWG is just getting started with an exciting book club. We are reading the Black Butterfly by Dr. Lawrence Brown (our Annual Conference keynote) and we couldn’t be happier to share that he will be facilitating a discussion at our upcoming conference.
Both conferences this year were virtual and NASCSP continues to grow its skills around this new approach to our work. We diligently collect, analyze, and respond to conference and training session evaluations. We are excited that our evaluations reflect ongoing improvement from conference to conference. We enjoyed some very high highlights at our conferences this year with presentations from many members as well as brilliant keynotes including Dr. Lawrence Brown, Lladira Aguilar, and Carin Taylor.
We also continue to grow our partnerships and relationships with other organizations and Hill staff. We have strengthened our ties to the Office of Community Services and the Department of Energy with regular meetings and check ins – even coffee talks!
We have engaged more than a dozen legislators on a variety of issues. We shared impacts and hopes for LIHEAP Weatherization and educated on impacts of SIR and ACPU in the Weatherization Assistance Program. A significant win for Weatherization is $3.5 billion in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal. We have done this work through meetings, regular written communications, official testimony and through sharing stories of the amazing work this network does. Some notable victories include allowance of the continued use of the 200% FPL eligibility level for FY21 CSBG funds as well as funds covered by the Continuing Resolutions. Right now we continue to share information on the inner workings of CSBG as Legislators work on CSBG Reauthorization.
On the communication front we spent the year trying out new and different approaches. We posted on social media (Facebook! Twitter! LinkedIn!) more frequently and made updates to our regular publications – both in look and content. Our blog posts are growing and we had a great series on Women in Weatherization that we look forward to expanding on next year. More recently, we have begun work to streamline and make our website more user-friendly. We’ll be continuing this work into 2022 and looking to our members to help direct us.
In October NASCSP co-sponsored a very successful 45th Anniversary Weatherization Day, with Senator Chris Coons (D-PA), Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), and Congressman Paul Tonko (D-NY) who was able to be with us live. We were also joined by DOE staff and leadership, Secretary Granholm who shared a recorded message, and Deputy Secretary Kelly Speakes-Backman and Anna Maria Garcia who joined us live. This event was a fantastic opportunity to spread the word about Weatherization and we look forward to more events like this in the future.
As we shift our gaze from the past year forward to 2022 we do so with full hearts and hope. The last year(s) have underscored just how adaptable and resilient Weatherization and CSBG networks are, and even NASCSP itself. We are excited to stand on the precipice of this new year and step forward into it with each and every one of you.
Cheers to another year of changing lives and making stronger communities through building more economically secure and energy efficient households!
Beverly Buchanan, NASCSP Board Chair & Jenae Bjelland, NASCSP Executive Director