LIHEAP in the News

December 13th, 2012

By Jake Brown

Christmas came early for many Northeastern LIHEAP-reliant states this winter, both in the not-so-hot arrival of frigid weather and by contrast, the welcome news that Tens of Millions of dollars in LIHEAP funding was being released just in the nick of time to aid hundreds of thousands of families in keeping the heat on.    Beginning with one of New England’s traditionally iciest states, Maine, outgoing senior US Senator Olympia Snowe announced the farewell gift of $34.9 Million in federal heating assistance, hailing the funding as “invaluable for our state’s most vulnerable families who will struggle to pay heating bills.”

WLBZ Bangor Channel 2 reported that local community action agencies and related private charity efforts were underway around the state to provide supplemental assistance to the Federally-released funds, one notably creative endeavor to that end in November including a fundraising concert sponsored by the Bradbury Mountain Arts that also featured a ‘Keep ME Warm’ art series.  Running for the next 3 months on January 12, February 9, and March 9 with the aim of raising money for the town’s heating assistance fund, the events feature 3 bands, a quit gallery and raffle.  Quoting Keep ME Warm organizer Kathy Hogue shared from the front lines of the fight to fully fund LIHEAP that “I think it’s becoming more and more aware through different communities that they need to kind of step up and different people need to maybe organize some things that will bring extra money in that’s not there in LIHEAP right now.”

In the still suffering & recovering state of New Jersey- already the victim of over $20 billion in devastating damage from Hurricane Sandy earlier in the fall- while power had been restored to most households, families throughout the state were already badly in need of utility bill assistance.  This reality made the announcement by Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) of a staggering $119,394,579 in LIHEAP winter heating assistance being released to the Garden State a holiday miracle, supported by local paper The Paramus Post’s report that guidelines for aid usage had been expanded in the wake of the hurricane to include “During an energy crisis, LIHEAP allows states greater flexibility. After a disaster, LIHEAP funds can be used to deal with crisis situations, particularly with respect to assistance for home energy related needs… Particularly important as the state recovers from Hurricane Sandy, the program’s funds may also be used to place people in locations with access to heating. The money, which is usually used for fuel to heat homes, can also be used to purchase temporary rentals, blankets and generators for LIHEAP beneficiaries impacted by the storm…(and) for the costs to temporarily shelter or house individuals in hotels, costs for transportation to move individuals away from the crisis area to shelters, utility reconnection costs, repair or replacement costs for furnaces, insulation repair, coats, blankets, crisis payments for utilities and utility deposits and the purchase of generators.”

Commenting first-hand on just how crucial the funding and its timing was for his constituents, Senator Menendez emphasized that “in the wake of super storm Sandy…this funding is literally a lifeline for thousands of low income families, seniors, and laid off workers who are already struggling to make ends meet in a tough economic environment and simply can’t afford the steep cost of heating their homes,” while fellow Senator Lautenberg doubled down on his colleague’s comment, adding that “this funding will help provide better living conditions for families across the state.”

In neighboring Vermont, the congressional delegation announced the release of $17.69 million in winter heating aid, inspiring senior US Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to point to the cold, hard fact that with “winter…already upon many Vermont families, heating fuel is not a luxury, it is a necessity. Funding from the LIHEAP program helps many Vermonters get through long months of harshly cold days and nights.”  Congressman Peter Welch added that with the economic conditions on the ground still as frosty as ever, “energy assistance is a vital lifeline for many Vermonters, so this is very good news that comes just in time for the cold weather now settling in. But this is just a down payment on what Vermont will need to meet the demand this winter. We’ll continue fighting to ensure LIHEAP is fully funded and available for those who need it when they need it.”

Down in Connecticut, spirits were similarly raised at the receipt of the news that $72.4 million in assistance was coming as part of  what local paper the REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN reported was part of a larger move by the Obama Administration to release LIHEAP funds nationally as part of a wave of “block grants nationwide, about 90 percent of the full-year funding ‘for states, tribes and territories’… a higher proportion than is typically made available in the initial allocation, and gives states more certainty to plan for their upcoming heating season, while allowing Congress flexibility in setting its final funding level for the program.”

In the granite state of Pennsylvania, Pittsburg Steelers Hall of Fame Running Back Franco Harris stepped up to the plate to raise LIHEAP visibility among residents throughout the state – many still unaware of the availability of assistance – about the fact that indeed it was, commenting to CBS Pittsburg: “I have been around a long time telling people about LIHEAP and every year it’s important. The importance does not go away.”   Fellow celebrity, Pulse radio’s Pat Lamarche, raised $4000 in LIHEAP donations courtesy of a stunt in its second year where the host – according to a report by Bangor, Maine’s WABI-TV 5 – the host lived “in a small wooden shed called a hobbit hole all week.”  Elaborating on the unique campaign to raise funds and awareness for the LIHEAP program, Lamarche announced at the outset of his effort that  “I’ll be here Thanksgiving, I’ll be here all those times when people who can afford to be warm will be really thankful for how warm they are and hopefully that sort of generosity will overflow and they’ll help. They can reach their hand right into Stephen King’s pocket. They take $20 out of their pocket, they’re reaching into Stephen King’s pocket and taking out a matching $20.”

Beyond fundraising efforts, in Midwestern states like Iowa, the Iowa City Press Citizen reported that non-profit advocacy organizations like MidAmerican Energy Co were also offering a website with “information about how to reduce energy costs and use energy efficiently. The company also offers a free home energy audit program — in home and online — which allows customers to take a critical look at their energy use and compare their energy use to similar homes in the area.”  Organization spokesman Tim Grabinski explained that “these audits allow customers to have an expert come into their home and look at what they have and make suggestions and give them resources to improve the efficiency in their home and really make a difference in the way their home performs.”  Along with the aforementioned measures, Grabinski added that “MidAmerican operates the I CARE program, which allows customers who are financially able to donate money to those in need in their community through their monthly bill.  For every dollar donated through I CARE, MidAmerican Energy matches it by 25 percent.  Every bit saved is less energy that needs to be produced, so it can help us keep costs down in the future, keeps reliability strong for everyone.”

Families throughout Carter County, Kentucky expressed relief after a leading local Community Action Agency, the Northeast Kentucky Community Action Agency, announced that funds they’d feared might not reach the state after a delay that threatened, according to the Journal-Times, to leave nearly 2,500 households in the cold, based off statistics from homes helped throughout the county in 2011.  With upward of $390,000 disbursed last year, the NKCAA was understandably relieved and eager to begin getting both the word out about funds and residents in need in the door to begin the delayed application process, following the Journal-Times’ report that “last week (the agency)…had yet to receive the money it normally gets from the federal government to fund the program.”

Out West in Utah, the state put out the good word that winter funds for LIHEAP- or H.E.A.T., as the program that helped 41,500 families last year- is locally known throughout the state, were available starting November 1st.  The announcement came just in the nick of time according to Housing and Community Development Div. Director Gordon Walker, who pointed out that with “falling temperatures put even more pressure on families as they weigh the need to turn on their furnaces.  The energy subsidies we are releasing this season will help more families afford heat and avert difficult choices too many Utahans face between paying for heat and paying for other essentials like food and medicine.”

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