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  • USDA grants for Maine to remove health and safety hazards, make homes more energy efficient

    Photo left: Governor John Baldacci helps to weatherize a home in Augusta to help the elderly save heating costs in 2009. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    By Ramona du Houx 

    Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced October 28, 2015 that USDA is investing $3.7 million to help rural families repair and rehabilitate their homes.

    “At this critical time of the year as weather turns colder and many Mainers struggle to pay their heating bills, I am pleased that USDA Rural Development can provide funding to our partners that will help 30 Maine families in five counties weatherize and make repairs to their homes. This helps them to preserve what is often their most valuable asset and provide a safe, warm home for their families,” said USDA Rural Development Maine State Director Virginia Manuel.

    Under the Baldacci administration programs were put into action to help weatherization improvements. Bonds, grants from the federal government and training programs were put into place. Funds from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative were used through Efficiency Maine to help businesses and the elderly.


    Governor John Baldacci also created bonds to help research and development of alternative energy technologies, as well as promoted the production of wood pellets from disused forested trees.


    During the recession Baldacci started the Weatherization core, based on F. D. Roosevelt’s conservation core, to help low income and elderly Mainers with weatherization improvements.


    Governor Baldacci saw that creating these initiatives would save the people of Maine thousands of dollars they would have wasted in heating costs, as well as grew the economy with new jobs. As Maine's building stock is over 85 percent of older homes these jobs would reach far into the future.


    Unfortunately, Governor Paul LePage has a different plan. He wishes to use protected forestland for fuel for low income Mainers and until he gets his way he refuses to release over $11 million in voter-approved bonds for land conservation.


    Many of Baldacci's initiatives received funds from the USDA, and the Department of Energy under the Obama administration.


    The funds announced by Secretary Vilsack are being awarded through the Housing Preservation Grant (HPG) program in 46 states and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico to support the renovation of 1,147 units.  

       "Many low-income families in rural areas struggle to afford necessary housing upkeep," said Secretary Vilsack. "This USDA program provides grants for repairs not only to ensure that properties are in compliance with health and safety codes, but also to help people lower their maintenance costs through energy efficiency and weatherization improvements. All of these efforts make sure rural folks can stay in their homes.”

    Where the USDA funds will be allocated: 

    • Western Maine Community Action, located in Wilton has been selected to receive a Housing Preservation Grant in the amount of $25,000. Funds will be used to rehabilitate and repair 10 homes for very low income households in Franklin County. Funds will be used in conjunction with weatherization, Central Heating Improvement, and other funding sources for anticipated leveraged funds totaling in excess of $109,000.


    • Penquis Community Action Program, located in Bangor, has been selected to receive a Housing Preservation Grant in the amount of $25,000. Rural Development funds will be used by Penquis CAP to assist 20 very low and low income households in Penobscot, Piscataquis, Knox, and Waldo counties.  The funds will be leveraged with approximately $230,800.00 in funding from MaineHousing, the Department of Economic and Community Development, and other weatherization programs.  

     Photo right: Governor John Baldacci at a school in Wilton talking about the pellet burner, funded in part by state government programs and the USDA grant, in 2009. Photo by Ramona du Houx

     USDA provides financing to such as local governments, public agencies, federally recognized Indian Tribes, non-profit organizations and faith-based and community groups.  These entities distribute the grants to individual homeowners as well as to owners of multi-family rental properties or cooperative dwellings who rent to low- and very-low-income residents.  

       Since the start of the Obama Administration, USDA has provided almost $47 million in Housing Preservation Grants that have leveraged more than $167 million to repair and rehabilitate 12,000 homes and apartments in rural communities.