NEW YORK (

TheStreet

) -- Can a new rebate program do for the home-appliance industry what "Cash for Clunkers" did, at least temporarily, for the automobile business?

This fall, the likes of

Whirlpool

(WHR) - Get Report

and

General Electric

(GE) - Get Report

will find out.

For a limited time, consumers can exchange their old refrigerators, dish washers and washers-dryer units for rebates on new energy-efficient models.

The Department of Energy will dole out $300 million for its newest "Cash for Appliances" program, set to begin this fall.

The program follows the success of the Department of Transportation's celebrated auto-rebate initiative, which ends today.

Under the appliances program, shoppers can expect to receive rebates worth between $50 and $200 per appliance, which must bear an energy-star seal.

Unlike "cash for clunkers," however, participants in the appliance-rebate program don't need to trade in their old machines.

Program details will vary state by state, and the Energy Department has set a deadline of Oct. 15 for states to file applications.

"These rebates will help families make the transition to more efficient appliances, making purchases that will directly stimulate the economy," Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in a statement announcing the plan.

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The program offers a glimmer of hope not only for penny-pinching shoppers, but for appliance makers such as Whirlpool, who are desperate for a sales boost amid the recession.

Whirlpool has seen its sales decline 20% during the first half of the year, while General Electric debated shuttering its refrigerator plant earlier this year. It decided to keep it open but reduced its workforce.

Shipments of washers, dryers, refrigerators and ovens dropped 10% in 2008 and are down 15% through July, according to the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers.

And home-appliance retailers, including

Home Depot

(HD) - Get Report

,

Lowe's

(LOW) - Get Report

and

Sears

(SHLD)

, have been forced to cut prices on big-ticket items with little success. For each of these companies, sales of higher-priced goods fared the worst in the most-recent quarter.

Still, with only a $300 million budget, it's unclear how much of an impact the program will have on sales in the sector, let alone whether it will constitute a boon on the level of "Cash for Clunkers."

Furthermore, even with the rebate, many consumers may still not be able to afford the new appliances.

-Reported by Jeanine Poggi in New York.

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