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Texas Rebate Program A Frustrating Bust

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Today's much-ballyhooed Texas Trade Up appliance rebate program is pretty much a bust for thousands of frustrated residents trying to sign-up for a chance to get money back for upgrading their home electronics for newer, more energy-efficient models.

The state got $23 million in stimulus money to encourage people to get rid of their old junker appliances and pay them a bit to do so. It told the folks what was coming weeks in advance (giving conservative commentators ample chance to decry the creeping socialism of it all).

In this first-ever effort, Texas dedicated itself to high tech. Sign up for tweets and you'd get regular alerts on the start time (the original date was discarded as being too close to Easter vacation).

Then you could go online and sign your name up on the reservation list to be eligible for one of the rebates if you followed through and completed a purchase.

There were rules. You had to be a Texas resident, installing the new refrigerator/freezer or whatever in a home in Texas. Some apppliances could only be bought between April 16 and April 25; but 60 days were allowed for something bigger such as central air. You had to provide proof that you'd disposed of the old unit in a responsibly green manner.

The tweets came often enough to be annoying, but they worked. The whole enterprise fell off the cliff after that.

The web site ("The state's official site for powerful answers") crapped out early and often after its 7 a.m. start time today. Occasionally, tantalizing messages are left, promising there was "still $19 million left," "still $17 million left." But the site remained down or "limited."

As a backup, there was a phone number, raising the hopes of Luddites. But low tech didn't work any better. One Hair Baller confessed to calling the phone number provided about 100 times since the opening gun, with no success. By noon. This is the message she got:

"We are experiencing unusually high caller volumes. Please try again later. Goodbye." (Click)

The Hair Baller's father blamed the foul-up on Governor Rick Perry and his fellow Republicans, saying they'd apparently assigned only one operator to answer the volume of calls.

The site says Texas expected the reservation spots to go quickly. Clearly they were couching this in something other than hours.

One friend of Hair Balls (the designated applier for his family who kept trying the online route) told us by 12:45 p.m.:

"I hit it with three different browsers. I can't get it to click all the way over. Then it times out. I'm getting phone alerts that say it's back up in limited access but I'm still not able to get through."

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