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Arkansan Worker Cuts Bills After Auto Job Layoff

November 24, 2009 - 3:34pm

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The wind used to howl around the doors and through the attic of Thomas Lee’s house. It’s an older brick home with poor insulation located just outside the city limits of Tyronza, Ark. The furnace never seemed to kick off in the winter, and keeping his family warm was a constant battle, Thomas says, one that cost him close to $100 extra each month in the winter.

Thomas is 51 years old and lives with his wife and two teenage sons. When his two-bedroom home was weatherized in August, the 15-year U.S. Navy veteran experienced the effects of the Recovery Act first-hand when he could really use it.

After his 13-year auto manufacturing job, where he was most recently a general foreman of a team making water pumps for new cars, moved to China in July 2007, Thomas needed a lucky break.

“It was very disheartening seeing the company where I had been so long just shut its doors,” he says. “I understand the folks in charge of it all were trying to make a profit – and they treated us right with a nice severance package – but I’m not going to be able to find the job I had without a college degree.”

After a few months, Thomas went to work at his local big-box store while he looked for other jobs. He soon found another manufacturing job building conveyors at a company in neighboring Jonesboro — just in time for them to lay him off with 400 other employees in January 2009. Feeling insecure in the manufacturing industry, Thomas went back to the big-box chain where he and his wife now work (at separate locations). With a significantly reduced income than what the couple was used to, paying high electric bills suddenly became tougher to do.

All that changed when one of Thomas’ friends told him about the income qualifications to have a home weatherized. Soon, Thomas and his mother, whom he helped to apply, both had been approved.

Weatherization workers performed tasks such as replacing windows, insulating air ducts and switchboxes, caulking gaps and testing the efficiency of appliances. Now, Thomas’ electric bill is $146 for October, compared to $219 last year for the same month.

“We haven’t changed anything else,” he says. “We’re just doing what it takes to keep the house comfortable, but we can do that now without having to have heating or air conditioning on such extreme settings.”

He and his wife will find it easier to make ends meet now that their energy costs are down. They’ve also been saving money to take their two teenage sons on a vacation.

“My wife and I have really wanted to go on a vacation with them,” Thomas says. “We might not have to wait so long now.”

Thomas says weatherization is a necessity for any homeowner.

“I didn’t know how much I was losing not having an air-tight home. I didn’t think about the leakage in the house,” he says. “I wish I’d done this 10 years ago.”

Thomas was also impressed that the work was done quickly by the weatherization team and that, except for upgrade, they left his house exactly as they had found it, he says.

Through the end of September 2009, the Weatherization Assistance Program has improved more than 170 low-to-moderate-income homes in Arkansas with funds received under the stimulus bill, says Arkansas state weatherization manager Larry Palmer. The program there is nearing full production and should weatherize more than 5,000 homes through 2012, according to Larry.

“The stimulus funds are a much-needed gift that we’ve been hoping for because weatherization is a program of proven efficiency and effectiveness that brings immeasurable improvements to homes, and now we can help many more,” he says.

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