DENVER (CBS4) – The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 — commonly known as stimulus funds and designed to jumpstart the US economy — has paid for 6,108 new refrigerators that have been installed in Colorado homes in the last three years.
The expenditure, which was first reported by the website Coloradowatchdog.org, is drawing blistering criticism from Jon Caldara, a critic of big government.
“Government’s job is not to keep my beer cold. That’s my job,” said Caldara. “People go to play on the Price is Right in hopes of winning a refrigerator, they shouldn’t go to the government to get those types of prizes.”
The Recovery Act set aside about $831 billion to promote economic recovery and preserve and create jobs. Billions of dollars were directed at weatherizing homes, and officials say new, energy efficient refrigerators are a form of weatherization.
“These are people that are struggling to pay their bills, these are people in great need, these are not people who have warm beer,” said Douglas Karl, the Weatherization Director for the Governor’s Energy Office, which helps distribute the weatherization funds and administers the program that buys the refrigerators.
Karl acknowledges that most people may not think of refrigerators as traditional weatherization: most think of insulation, caulking and weatherstripping. But he says the reality is that aging refrigerators are expensive energy drains, hurting those with low and modest incomes.
“You think about refrigeration today and it runs 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. When you look at the reduction and energy that can be saved through an energy star or energy efficient fridge, thats the biggest consuming appliance.”
Karl went on to say that providing the elderly and low income with new refrigerators satisfies the intent of the Recovery Act. He says the government buying refrigerators creates jobs and also gives recipients more discretionary income to spend through savings on energy bills.
The refrigerators purchased for Coloradoans typically cost about $550 and are provided by Whirlpool or Sears.
Kathy Ayala, a West Denver resident, is one Coloradoan who received a new refrigerator through the stimulus program.
“The people across the street were getting it done,” she said. “I called and went on the website and we qualified so we got it done.”
Ayala said she was mostly interested in getting a new furnace, which she couldn’t afford, but the program requires a complete home weatherization assesment and the refrigerator was part of the top to bottom weatherization provided by the government. Ayala said her old furnace was continually breaking down, to the point where her family had to use the oven to keep their home warm.
“We wouldn’t have cared if we hadn’t gotten anything but the furnace because we needed the furnace so bad. The rest of the stuff was just icing on the cake.”
Ayala, who is retired, says she loves her new refrigerator.
But Caldara, who calls the refrigerator program “corporate welfare,” doesn’t believe stimulus dollars should have been used for refrigerators.
“If there are poor people who need help, give them the money to help them get through their tough time, don’t give them free refrigerators. The refrigerator ploy was buying votes. Not only did it buy votes for refrigerator manufacturers and shareholders but also the people who got free goodies from the government.”
State administrators say there are tight guidelines in place ensuring the refrigerators are going to poor families whose annual household incomes are $22,000 or less.
– Written by Brian Maass for CBSDenver.com