HB55: Is Utah’s ‘Breaking Bad’ fund broke?

by Abigail Norton
Capital West News

SALT LAKE CITY — Not only is additional funding unlikely to materialize for low-income Utahns looking to fix their meth-contaminated homes, the fund that helps them clean up those homes may be going away.

The Methamphetamine Housing Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Account Act, passed in 2012, established an account funded through income tax donations. The account was meant to assist qualifying low-income families living in meth-contaminated properties in paying for the rehabilitation of their homes.To date, the account had been unable to help any families because of limited funds.

Utah lawmakers begin the 2015 General Session  on Jan. 26.

Utah lawmakers begin the 2015 General Session on Jan. 26.

“It seems to make sense to help out these people who live in these houses. Just like everyone else they deserve that opportunity,” said BYU computer science major and social activist Isaac Kurth.

Rep. Edward Redd, R-Logan, cited lack of donations as the main cause of the account’s limited funds. “It’s becoming a liability to the state rather than an asset because it costs more money to run the fund than we ever can give to anybody to rehabilitate meth-contaminated homes,” he said.

“The problem is people are supposed to donate money with their tax returns by checking off a box with however many dollars they want to donate,” Redd said. “[But] people didn’t donate enough to keep the fund going.” The account was removed from tax return forms last year due to lack of funds. A new bill sponsored by Redd, HB55, would repeal the Act and eliminate the account altogether.

Law dictates that the account may only remain on tax return forms if the account receives donations totaling at least $30,000 per year for three consecutive years. In the three years the meth-house rehabilitation account was in place it generated $8,000. Redd pointed out that other organizations have the same process of collecting donations but said, “people aren’t buying into it enough to maintain it or keep it going.”

The process of rehabilitating meth-contaminated residences often requires extensive work, not to mention funding. “When you have a meth-contaminated house it’s not just going in there and scrubbing the walls down,” Redd said. “You have to take a lot of stuff out and throw it away and then replace it.”

Residences where methamphetamine has been prepared or even smoked are subject to contamination, and repairing meth-contaminated homes is not cheap, “It costs in the range of $5,000 to $20,000 to repair a meth-contaminated house,” he said.

Redd cited a lack of public awareness as part of the problem; a combination of people not understanding what the bill would have accomplished or not caring about meth-contaminated houses for low-income people. The bill was a noble effort and that despite its lack of publicity, he said hopes the issue will make a reappearance in the future.

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