There is nothing new about one part of President Carter's energy plan, the "weatherization" section that is aimed at keeping cold breezes from blowing through the houses of the poor.
A weatherizing program already is in effect in scores of cities nationwide, including Alexandria and Washington, and although bureaucrats have some problems locally, the recipients seems delighted with it.
After a rocky start during the 1973 fuel crisis, the Community Services Administration has put storm windows, insulation, weather stripping, caulking and other energy conservation measures into 100,000 homes across the country. Many of these helped were older or disabled citizens such as Mrs. John Jacobs of the District.
"I only had to fill the oil tank three times the rest of the winter afterwards," said Mrs. Jacobs, of 3009 S. Dakota Ave. NE, recalling the weatherization of her home last January.
Normally, she said, she refilled that tank five times between January and springtime. Mrs. Jacobs, 57, a widow who has been hospitalized several times with heart trouble, said she called the District's United Planning Organization (UPO) for help when her winter fuel bill hit $80 a month.
"They came out the next day," she said. "I'm still paying off those fuel bills." A dividend of the weather-stripped widows and the unsulated attic, she said, is that the houe has been cool on this summer's few hot days.
Her experience is the kind President Carter would like to extend to the nation's poor whose homes, if not run down, tend to be in older buildings that are low on insulation and high on drafts and fuel use.
Families with incomes of $5,000 or less occupy fully one-fifth of the nation's 75.6 million housing units, according to the 1975 census.
To start on weatherproofing those homes, Carter's bill would provide $130 million in fiscal 1978 and $200 million each in fiscal 1979 and 1980 for insulating, weather stripping, furnace replacement and other improvements. Families with incomes up to 125 per cent of the official poverty level ($5,469 for a family of four) would be included.
"Everyone seems to be in favor; in fact, the only changes so far have been to widen the application," said Robert Hemphill of the Federal Energy Admonistration. The plan is undergoing markup this week in the House Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs Committee.
Other parts of the administration bill would provide tax credits for nonpoor homeowners who plug the heat leaks in their dwellings.
It is not clear just what would happen to existing weatherization programs under Carter's proposed new energy department. Consolidation is nowhere spelled out, according to FEA spokesman James Merna, "but if you look at the budget you can deduce certain things."
Besides the Community Services Administration program, which is the most extensive, there is and 8 per cent loan program of the Farmer's Home Administratrion that began in March. It offers loans up to $1,500 for insulation to low-and middle-income home-owners in rural areas, and has an estimated $1 billion loan fund to draw on, according to an FHA spokesman.
There also is a $27.5 million program, authorized last year, which is just getting started at the FEA. It is the only existing weatherization project to include rental units. The rest are for homeowners only.
However, 53.3 per cent of all the poor live in rented housing, and the administration proposal would also cover them. It is a prospect that gives some area bureaucrats the chills.
"In our experience, improvements to rental property mean the landlord raises the rents and the poor people have to move out," said Lenwood Roberts, who administers the weatherization program of the Alexandria Equal Opportunities Commission.
"There will be provisions that rents don't get raised and landlords can't take advantage," the FEA's Hemphill said of Carter's proposal. He agreed, however, that "it's tough to figure out how to make that work. It'll be up to the state governments to set the regulations."
Local officials worry about another provision of the Carter plan that continues a practice they regard as one of their main problems under the CSA program. Fully 85 per cent of the funds are required to be spent for materials now, and the Carter program would make it 90 per cent.
"We have the materials but no manpower to turn it into a weatherized house," said David Simmons, chief of program coordination at the District's UPO.
"I think the congress must have had a small-town model in mind, a neighborhood where you could get volunteers to come in and put in the windows and things for you. In an urban area, people are trying to make in on their own and if they have those skills they try to sell them," he said. "I don't think the legislation is realistic."
The necessary labor has come in part from the Comprehensive Employment Training Act (CETA) programs for on-the-job training of the jobless, and Carter's plan would supply it from that program as ell. In practice, the D.C. and Alexandria programs each have only one work crew operating but said they could keep several more workers busy in funding were available.
Mary E. Rawlings, 61, had been budgeting $70 a month to heat her two-storey free-stading row-style house, at 316 N. Patrick St., Alexandria, incorporates the one-chair beauty parlor that is her only source of income. "It went to $100 in January, and people stopped coming in because of the weather, and if they don't come I don't have no income," she said.
She said the crew from Alexandria's EOC had put in caulking, weather stripping, a storm window and attie insulation that cost $85.
"It's already helped since I haven't had to use the fan in the attic yet this summer and no blankets on the cool nights," she said. "I'm real pleased with it."