Spending the Stimulus MoneyJANUARY 31, 2009
- Sen. Jeff Sessions
- (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
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This week, the Obama administration's stimulus package passed the House. The Senate votes next. For some state agencies, you'd think it might be a "Brewster's Millions" scenario. Remember that movie? Richard Pryor has all this money that he needs to spend in a hurry because, well, never mind, long story. Pryor had a hard time spending all that cash, but Malcolm Wolf doesn't think it will be too difficult. He's the director of the Maryland Energy Administration, and he's in charge of how the money will be spent in his state.
John Moe: How much are you expecting to receive?
Malcolm Wolf: It depends what ultimately comes out of Congress. Between the House and the Senate, somewhere between $10 and $50 million.
Moe: How difficult is it for you to find ways to spend all that money?
Wolf: I don't think it will be difficult at all. We have a whole host of existing programs that we currently fund at small levels that we welcome the opportunity to fund at much more robust levels.
Moe: Like what?
Wolf: We have a community energy loan program, which gives out money to local government, nonprofits, and businesses for low interest, energy efficiency projects. We loan money at two or three percent, and they can retrofit city hall or help the local food bank have a new refrigeration system. We fund that at $1 million a year here in Maryland. We have a huge wait list. It would be easy to fund that at $10 million, if funds were available.
Moe: Are these things that have been on the table, "shovel ready," as they say, ready to go for years, just awaiting the dollars? Or, has there been special planning you've had to do very recently?
Wolf: It's a combination of both. We have a whole host of "shovel ready" projects, particularly for state agencies, who to reduce their own energy consumption. We can also launch new programs and expand them. One that I'm particularly proud of is our green collar job creation program. We need to get a whole lot of home inspectors and home energy installers trained and certified. Instead of doing 100 over the next several months, like we've planned, we want to explode that so we can actually train more and more Marylanders for A) get jobs and B) save money in their homes.
Moe: I'm sure there's pressure to do something quickly in this situation. The stimulus can't get tied up in the bureaucracy. It needs to get out there and start making a difference. How do you balance the pressure to do something quickly with the pressure to do something wisely?
Wolf: There is pressure to get the stimulus out. The fortunate reality is that there's a ton of low-hanging fruit available across the nation. Let me share with you one program that we recently rolled out that we can greatly expand with the federal money. We call it assisted home performance. It's targeted for low income families, who aren't going to be able to make the investment to put in more insulation in their homes. We offer up to $5,000 of state money to retrofit their homes. The typical family who has gone through that program is saving somewhere around 20 percent in their energy bills, and some families are saving 50 percent on their energy bills. We're not only creating jobs that the people we train are then hired to do this work and put in insulation; but, we're reducing these families' energy bills and we're helping to meet our climate and environmental goals.
Moe: Malcolm Wolf is the director of the Maryland Energy Administration. He sits at his desk, pen in hand, checkbook out, ready to go. Malcolm Wolf, thank you so much.
Wolf: Thank you.