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Thousands of low-income Washingtonians started lining up early this morning at the Convention Center to get a crack at discounts on their utility bills and free weatherization for their homes, waiting for hours while canvassers for mayoral candidates Adrian Fenty and Vince Gray worked the line (a few heated arguments broke out along the way).
The District Department of the Environment, along with D.C. Water and Pepco, has held Joint Utility Discount Day once a year for over a decade, dispensing funds granted by the federal department of Health and Human Services for home heating assistance. The one-time benefit averages around $300, varying based on an applicant’s income and the size of their household. Plus, applicants can get free weatherization of their homes, including an energy audit valued at $4,200.
Last year, about 6,500 people showed up; officials eyeballing the line estimated that the number could be much higher this year (it should go more quickly—this is the first time they have computers on site to process applications). But there isn’t quite as much money to go around for everyone. Though HHS boosted its contribution from $12 million to $16.7 million, D.C.’s Department of Human Services allocated nothing (down from $2 million last year). Total, DDOE expects there will $20 million available for energy assistance and weatherization, down from $22 million last year.
While they waited in the cavernous auditorium—two floors above the one used a few weeks ago for thousands of people seeking mortgage assistance—applicants could try their toungues at a blind taste test of D.C. tap water and bottled water. “I got it right!” said the irrepressible D.C. Water director George Hawkins.
And now, let’s walk this line: