LIHEAP Political Profiles: March 2014

April 10th, 2014

By Jake Brown

Sen Ed Markey

Senator Edward J. Markey

Senator Edward J. Markey (D-MA) garnered political praise after being presented with an award from the National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association (NEADA) in recognition and “appreciation of your many years of leadership, support, and commitment.” Commented NEADA director Mark Wolfe: “As a result of Senator Markey’s long-term support of LIHEAP, we were not only able to fight off funding cuts this year but were able to secure an additional $170 million for the program. Because of Senator Markey’s leadership, almost seven million poor families across the country have received important help to pay their heating bills this winter.”

Iowa State Sen Liz Mathis

Iowa State Senator Liz Mathis

Iowa State Senator Liz Mathis earned the applause of her constituents after she fought and won $2 million in additional LIHEAP funding, reasoning that the supplemental funding was dictated by the “perfect storm” that arrived in the face of the reality that for tens of thousands of Iowan households, “along with propane problems, there are broken furnaces, higher energy bills and something we can’t control – a really cold and long winter which is throwing people into a financial dilemma and dangerous safety issues.” Hammering home how real the crisis was facing so many families, Mathis bravely took on the program’s critics, cautioning them on calls to hold off on appropriating the additional funds, declaring that “last week I heard some senators say they wanted to take a ‘wait-and-see approach’ and still others said the churches should meet these multi-million dollar needs. New and real numbers, real data, not just stories have just been released that will show we need to answer the call today to help our fellow Iowans.”

PA Governor Corbett

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett

In Pennsylvania, Republican Governor Tom Corbett won bipartisan praise for his decision to extend the LIHEAP application deadline for winter heating assistance to the end of April. The Governor also revealed his state had planned for the possibility of a prolonged winter given the fall’s frigid temperatures, circumstances that have only worsened for the hundreds of thousands of LIHEAP-recipient families throughout Pennsylvania. Commenting on the advance planning measures, Governor Corbett explained that “each year we work to set our budget for the LIHEAP program in anticipation of the upcoming heating season. At the beginning of each season there are many unknowns, including the severity of the weather and fuel prices, but through running an efficient program and via prudent planning, we are now able to extend the program by nearly a month.”

State Sen Saxhaug

Minnesota State Senator Tom Saxhaug

In Minnesota, a bipartisan coalition of state legislators united to secure a record $20 million in supplemental state-issued LIHEAP funding to compensate a shortfall in federal funds. The record application levels of the winter season would have seen federal funding dry up by the top of March. Spearheaded by chief legislation author Senator Tom Saxhaug (DFL-Grand Rapids), he commented that the additional financing was necessary because “I don’t want any Minnesotans to worry about their heating this winter … and we need to make sure that the LIHEAP program remains funded until this propane shortage is resolved.” Other co-sponsors of the bill who earned praise for their aggressive prioritizing of what became the first bill passed out of the state’s 2014 legislative session included:

Rep Petersberg

Minnesota State Representative John Petersburg

State Rep. John Petersburg (R-Waseca): “We’re trying to provide for the expanded availability and ability for people to enroll. Without this people were going to be running cold houses and having frozen pipes.”

Rep Savick

Minnesota State Representative Shannon Savick

State Rep. Shannon Savick (DFL-Wells): “The propane issue, for some people, is becoming a matter of health and safety. This bill will help offer support for more families in our area that are still struggling to keep warm during this brutal winter. It’s a good start to what will hopefully be a very positive session.”

Sen Jensen

Minnesota State Senator Vicki Jensen

State Sen. Vicki Jensen (DFL-Owatonna): “I’m very happy we were able to get this important legislation passed quickly. There’s nothing more important we do in the legislature than ensure the safety of Minnesotans. By doubling payments and extending the benefits of the LIHEAP program, we’ll be able to make sure families are able to heat their homes.”

High Demand Runs LIHEAP Funding Low: State, Local Communities, Private Donors Rally to the Cause

March 28th, 2014

By Jake Brown

With as brutal a winter as this season’s has already proven to be, news was as grim as the prospects of future weather patterns repeating 2014’s after Politico reported in March that “LIHEAP funding may become even scarcer next year. President Barack Obama has requested an 18 percent decrease in LIHEAP funding in his fiscal 2015 budget, something Republicans could support or seek to increase. Obama’s proposal would cut available LIHEAP funds to $2.8 billion next year from $3.4 billion this year.” Picking up on this alarming news, USA Today gave it national coverage in a March 17 cover story focused on states around the country geared up to fight back against these sorts of drastic cuts by “boost[ing] LIHEAP funding to meet the new threshold.”

Mayors from 18 of the country’s major cities unified in co-signing a letter urging President Obama to consider a drastic enhancement in LIHEAP funding for FY2014 to a threshold of at least $4.7 billion, nearly $2 billion over the current White House budget proposal. Those American mayors endorsing the call for an increase in funding included Francis G. Slay St. Louis, Missouri; Martin J. Walsh Boston, Massachusetts; Eric Garcetti Los Angeles, California; Jonathan Rothschild Tucson, Arizona; Michael Nutter Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Betsy Hodges Minneapolis, Minnesota; Stephanie Rawlings-Blake Baltimore, Maryland; Mike Duggan Detroit, Michigan; Greg Stanton Phoenix, Arizona; Michael Brennan Portland, Maine;  Jon Mitchell New Bedford, Massachusetts; Vincent C. Gray Washington, DC;  Angel Taveras Providence, Rhode Island;  Charlie Hales Portland, Oregon; Pedro E. Segarra Hartford, Connecticut; Carolyn G. Goodman Las Vegas, Nevada;  Rusty Bailey Riverside, California; and Patrick D. Cannon Charlotte, North Carolina.

This issue has transcended party lines with Governors around the Northeast rallying to LIHEAP’s aid. USA Today reported that “Republican Gov. Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania surprised many” with his show of increased support, while the Christian Science Monitor put the sense of alarm among these states in perspective by sharing the startling news that “the average LIHEAP grant has been reduced by more than $100 since 2010, from $520 in FY2010 to $406 in FY2013, according to the letter. Meanwhile, the US Energy Information Administration projects that average winter heating expenditures this year will range from $679 to as high as $2,046, depending on location and fuel type.”

With Spring Nor’Easter storms smashing New England with snow and major East Coast cities like Philadelphia pummeled with heavy snowfalls and plummeting temperatures, local affiliate NBC 10 TV quoted “a spokesperson for the state said… more than half the money to help people with heating bills is already gone.” Reacting to the endless winter season his state’s residents were facing, Governor Corbett on March 24 announced an extension of the LIHEAP winter season application period to April 18, explaining the move was a necessary one for the simple fact that “Pennsylvania has had a difficult winter, and programs like LIHEAP have helped our most vulnerable households to endure the cold temperatures. By providing this extension, our Department of Public Welfare is able to give individuals additional time to apply for home heating assistance so they can keep warm for the remainder of the season.”

Meanwhile, up in Massachusetts, Senator Edward J. Markey’s office reported of the natural gas crisis that “energy prices have been soaring this winter. In the Northeast, consumers heating with natural gas are spending 12 percent more than last winter. Families using propane are spending nearly 20 percent more. Families using heating oil are now paying nearly $2,200 each winter to heat their homes, up more than $600 dollars from four years ago. 190,000 families in Massachusetts received LIHEAP assistance last year, down five percent from the year before.”

After watching LIHEAP become a casualty of the budget battles of Washington, DC, local news media and LIHEAP organizations and advocates went to the airwaves to bring attention to the real lives affected by the funding cuts. Maine’s WAGM TV profiled “people like Limestone, ME residents Gene Brooker and his wife Darcy,” calling their frigid winter months “the hardest time of the year. They’re both living on a fixed income and disabled. Darcy is prone to hypothermia. Adequate heating is not just a want, it’s an absolute necessity.” Confirming that “we rely on LIHEAP to be able to keep us going,” the couple pointed to the skyrocketing cost of heating oil as a key antagonist, explaining that “we’ve burnt more fuel this year than we did in the past year. A lot more fuel ’cause last year we probably used about 250-300 gallons. This year we’ve used almost 5, and the winter ain’t over with yet.”

Rushing to the rescue of residents in the Midwestern state of Minnesota, arguably Maine’s rival in the contest for the coldest among LIHEAP-mainstay states, the state legislature made a bold declaration that no household would be left out in the cold after the House voted to appropriate a staggering $20 million in supplemental LIHEAP funds. Paid out of the state’s pocket on top of the federal emergency contingency funds already disbursed this year, the Mankato Times reported that the quick action – which happened on the first day of the legislative session – was necessary to head off federal funding running out on March 1 after “the program has been under strain this winter due to unusually cold conditions and a propane shortage that caused a dramatic price spike.”

Passed with unequivocal support in a 130-0 bipartisan vote, co-sponsor Rep. John Petersberg, a Republican, reasoned the state had no other choice but to step up in response to “the cold winter, combined with the propane shortage … [creating] uncertainty and financial strain for Minnesota families.” Hailing the vote as a demonstration of the universal need LIHEAP meets regardless of party affiliation, Petersberg added that “it’s encouraging to see both sides come together to approve this much-needed funding to make sure Minnesota families can continue to heat their homes. I hope to see additional solutions as session continues to address the long-term problems that caused the propane shortage in the first place to ensure this never happens again.”

In Iowa, another LIHEAP-dependent state continually battered by winter even as it battled shortages in program funding, the Gazette reported last month that “the Iowa Senate voted 41-8 Tuesday to provide an extra $2 million in state money to help needy Iowans pay for rising heating costs associated with frigid weather conditions … The $2 million supplemental state appropriation will help about 85,000 families with incomes at the 150 percent poverty level.” The additional funding was certainly welcome news for those families in the face of the staggering statistic released by RadioIowa, who – quoting the State’s Bureau of Energy Assistance administrator, Bill Brand – revealed that the Iowa Utilities Board had discovered that households throughout the state traditionally dependent on LIHEAP aid collectively have amassed over $46 million in overdue heating bills this spring, noting that “the dollar amount owed is 40-percent above February of last year.”

Missouri found itself in a similar predicament as fellow Midwestern border states after the Columbia Daily Tribune reported on March 25 that “Thursday was the official end to Columbia’s coldest winter on record since 1978-79 and its 10th-coldest since record keeping began in 1889 — weather that gave residents who use electricity, natural gas or propane to heat their home larger bills. From the beginning of December to the end of February, Columbia’s average temperature was 26.7 degrees … According to figures from the Columbia Water and Light Department, the average bill for residential customers in January was $97.64, the highest average recorded since 1995. Water and Light serves more than 40,000 residential customers … Mike Holman, director of gas operations for Ameren Missouri, said the average residential customer’s bill for the winter months in the Columbia/Boone County service area was $121 higher than the winter months for last year.”

Down south in Georgia, LIHEAP users were struggling with the difference in 2013’s relatively mild winter with 2014’s far more frigid temperatures, a dilemma that the Augusta-based Kennebec Journal put in sobering perspective with their report that “while last year’s relatively warm winter did make it easier for those struggling to heat their homes, allowing some to burn only half as much heating fuel as they might have in a cold winter, it may actually make it harder for people who rely on federal heating assistance to stay warm this winter. That’s because benefit amounts through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program are based upon how much fuel participants used last winter.”

Once again held hostage by the heating oil crisis that continued to grip many of the nation’s coldest states throughout the spring, the article highlighted the added stress that befalls those “residents who live in mobile homes and other housing where the oil tank is outside can have it even worse. Unless the tank is protected from the weather or other steps are taken, many have to purchase more-costly K-1 kerosene, because the cheaper No. 2 fuel oil could turn into a gel in cold temperatures and not flow to the furnace … With K-1 costing more than $4 a gallon, if she has only $400 of fuel assistance to give someone in need, that wouldn’t even pay for 100 gallons of oil. Some, but not all, dealers charge a $75 delivery fee to deliver less than 100 gallons.”

Underscoring just how thin LIHEAP officials were stretched on the local level trying to keep up with demand for aid, program manager for the Kennebec Valley Community Action agency, Kelly LaChance, told the paper that “someone calling to get an appointment to request LIHEAP funds today would not get an appointment until April 18. She said sometimes the agency has 15 to 20 people waiting on the phone at the same time to speak to someone about heating assistance.”

In neighboring Alabama, private businesses were stepping up to the plate to help out families in need as well, with one notable example being Mobile-based Blossman Propane Gas’s donation of $50,000 to the state’s LIHEAP budget to help short up funding shortages. The family-owned propane supplier has contributed in excess of $200,000 total to four states in the surrounding region between 2013 and 2014, with company CEO Stuart Weidie explaining his family business was inspired to roll up their sleeves and pitch in after “hearing about broken heaters, job cut backs and paychecks that don’t cover heating costs that may be running unusually high at this time of year. We are hoping this contribution will help families who are struggling with the cost of heating this year. Through this donation to LIHEAP we hope to alleviate potential life-threatening energy-related emergencies or needed repairs during this prolonged cold snap. Blossman Gas is a family and employee-owned company based on the philosophy of quality customer service. The company, along with each of its 70 stores, takes pride in community philanthropy and involvement.”

Statement on President Obama’s FY2015 Budget Submission

March 4th, 2014

Statement from Brandon Avila, Director, Campaign for Home Energy Assistance:

Today the Obama Administration requested $2.8 billion for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program – a dramatic reduction from last year’s Appropriation of $3.4 billion. In the midst of a brutal winter and surging energy prices, the idea of cutting LIHEAP by nearly 20% is unthinkable. Just last week, the Mayors of 19 major cities called on the White House to meet the community’s need by increasing investment to $4.7 billion. It is our deepest hope that Congressional leaders will reject these proposed cuts and restore assistance to hundreds of thousands of households.

For media requests or questions, contact:
Brandon Avila
Campaign For Home Energy Assistance
bavila@btbv.com
202-331-2962

##

Freezing February: Drastic Fuel Shortage Plague Spreads Around the U.S.

February 25th, 2014

By Jake Brown

News was grim for LIHEAP-dependent families throughout the East Coast and Midwest in February as they received a double-dose of bad news that temperatures and available heating assistance funds were continuing to drop, a stark reality that the Christian Science Monitor reported in February had “state agencies and nonprofits from Vermont to Iowa…struggling to keep up with a rising need for energy assistance as yet another winter storm rumbles across the United States. This year’s early string of winter storms has sapped the home energy assistance funds used to aid low-income households with utility payments during peak heating or cooling periods. State and local officials are supplementing federal aid with emergency dollars of their own and calling on President Obama to increase funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), the nation’s primary source of home heating and cooling assistance.”

Shedding light on the perfect storm of both financial and weather conditions that are plaguing the country, the CSM began by pointing to fuel costs “soaring as the Midwest suffers a propane shortage and the Northeast grapples with bottlenecks in an aging natural-gas pipeline system. Residential heating systems, meanwhile, are working harder and longer to keep homes at safe temperatures. The average LIHEAP grant has been reduced by more than $100 since 2010, from $520 in FY2010 to $406 in FY2013, according to the letter. Meanwhile, the US Energy Information Administration projects that average winter heating expenditures this year will range from $679 to as high as $2,046, depending on location and fuel type.”

Throughout New York state, the shiver of winter reverberated all the way to the statehouse, where Governor Andrew Cuomo responded by releasing the rest of the state’s $366 million LIHEAP aid, arguing the move was the only one to make in light of the fact that “the recent extreme cold weather has taken a toll on households statewide struggling to afford their heating bill to keep their families warm. This additional funding will be essential in helping eligible New Yorkers this season, and I urge those in need of assistance to apply as soon as possible.” With more than 1.3 million New Yorkers already having applied for assistance this winter – a state record – the state’s Senior US Senator Chuck Schumer also played a pivotal role on the federal level to ensure the accelerated release of the $50.6 million in funds, confronting head on what he cast as “the wolf of winter-cold snapping at the door, this urgently needed home heating aid arrived not a moment too soon for countless New York seniors and struggling families. This massive release of $50.6 million in federal funding to New York will provide critical relief to residents and senior citizens who were being forced to choose between heating their homes or putting food on the table. With record-breaking freezes occurring in New York and across the country, I’m thrilled that the feds have released this funding to New York for immediate use this winter.”

Up in neighboring Vermont, the cold had pushed heating prices for propane up a record 18 percent in one month, a consequence the Rutland Herald reported of “the polar vortex, also known at the 2014 North American cold wave. The southward movement of tropospheric Arctic air last month created record low temperatures across the United States, including Vermont … A cold snap coupled with an early-season spike in demand by farmers has put a squeeze on propane supplies, driving up the cost for Vermonters who heat their homes and cook their meals with the fuel.” Quoting Richard Moffi, the state director of Vermont’s Fuel Assistance program, the paper highlighted the fact that “the spike in propane prices has been felt most acutely by Vermonters who receive heating fuel assistance … [as] about 25 percent of those who use LIHEAP, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, rely on propane for heating,” adding that “about 28,000 Vermont families receive seasonal fuel assistance for all types of fuel.”

In Pennsylvania, the cold weather was adding an extra strain as “bitter cold temperatures accompanied by ice and snow … led to widespread school and business closings in many areas across Northwestern Pennsylvania, prompting local families to remain home during periods when they might otherwise adjust their thermostats downward.” In their coverage of heating bill crisis, Fox 66 News Television also shed light on the true severity of the temperature drop, revealing that “this winter has been one for the record books for extreme and prolonged cold and gas usage. According to National Fuel’s records for Erie, Pennsylvania, January 7th was the ‘peak day of natural gas usage’ which is the highest single peak day since the winter of 1996-1997. The high temperature of 4 degrees and the low of -10 degrees was the coldest day in a frigid month, and gas usage was 80 percent higher than an average January day.” Given that “only 20 percent of those eligible are accessing the (LIHEAP)” in his state, U.S. Senator Bob Casey urged residents to take advantage of a program that had “a significant impact for those families and provides a positive boost to the economy.”

In the Midwest, Iowans were facing similar effects of the fuel shortage, motivating Governor Terry Branstad to suspend “regulatory provisions pertaining to hours of service for drivers of commercial motor vehicles transporting propane, through an emergency declaration,” according to front page coverage by the Clinton Herald, who added that Branstad was additionally “successful in asking Texas Governor Rick Perry to waive licensing, permitting and certification requirements on trucks and operators hauling liquefied petroleum in an effort to help ease the shortage of propane and help propane suppliers keep up with demand.” Commenting directly on his actions, the Governor shared the good news with residents around the state that “after asking Texas officials … for the waiver, I was pleased to learn of their quick action to assist Iowans and Midwest states with the shortage of propane.”

The Des Moines Register, covering efforts underway at the state legislative level, broke the welcome news of a bill underway that would “add an additional $1 million in state funding for the program … [and] discussion of changing eligibility guidelines so that more people are able to access the subsidy,” a conversation that had “bipartisan interest and … could be approved in time to help Iowans this winter.” In the meantime, the Iowa Propane Gas Association was also coordinating a campaign with state officials to put emergency supplemental LIHEAP funding through to help finance the emergency spike in demand for heating fuel, with the paper pointing to progress that came when “Executive Director Deb Grooms and her staff met with state representatives to find a solution to this problem. The association has asked the state’s Congressional delegation to support an emergency supplemental appropriation for the federal Low Income Heating Energy Assistance Program in response to the potential shortage. State Representatives Joe Riding of Altoona and Todd Prichard of Charles City were filing an emergency bill this week to provide an additional $1 million to LIHEAP.”

In Michigan, Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow rallied to the aid of hundreds of thousands of households throughout their home state who had been hit hard by the propane shortage, bringing the dire extremity of the skyrocketing demand for heating oil alongside life-threatening temperatures to the attention of President Obama. The senators wrote the White House directly to make the case that urgent “action is required to deal with the dire propane shortage in the Midwest. Households and businesses in Michigan are experiencing shortages and major price increases due to the low propane supply in the area. The extreme cold weather this winter makes the shortage especially grim for many families, as they face disruptions in the propane supply necessary to heat their homes, farms and businesses.” Among the immediate remedies they recommended were “that you direct any other options which might be available to be exercised relative to other modes of transportation, like rail or pipeline, to facilitate propane flow to the Midwest,” along with extending the Department of Transportation’s declaration of “an emergency for the Midwest, to suspend certain safety requirements, including hours of service, for motor carriers and drivers involved in any relief efforts … until the propane shortage is resolved.” Levin and Stabenow further requested of the White House that they “direct the Commerce Department to take action under the Export Administration Regulations to limit exports in order to protect the domestic economy from the impacts of this shortage. Finally, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) assists low income and senior households with their energy bills. We hope that all possible avenues of additional funding will be explored to help households with heating their homes through the propane shortage and price spikes.”

Indiana’s governor, Mike Pence, took similar action, racing to the rescue of Hoosier households facing severe propane deficits as Indiana joined nearly half of the country in declaring a states of emergency. The Rushville Republican quoted the governor as stating that “the wintry weather has increased the demand for propane for home heating and approximately 500,000 Hoosiers use propane to heat their homes. The current demand for propane exceeds local’s availability of supply … In the Midwest, 63 percent of the propane market uses propane for residential and commercial heating.” The paper’s coverage also revealed that the governor and state legislators met in early February to take executive action to extend the state of emergency declared by the Department of Transportation in mid-January “for the Midwest, waiving hours of service limitations to ensure consumers can steadily receive home heating fuels that remain in unusually high demand. The exemption is set to expire on February 11, 2014, but lawmakers are requesting an extension beyond February 11 if necessary to ensure there is no disruption to delivery assistance for Hoosiers. Due to a variety of factors ranging from seasonal weather patterns to distribution challenges, upper Midwest propane inventories are already low.”

Up in traditionally-frigid Minnesota, Governor Dayton took executive action in a race to combat a growing propane emergency by expanding eligibility guidelines for LIHEAP applicants. As heating fuel prices continued to rise at a rate of three to four times their typical level, local newspaper The Caledonia Argus reported with relief that “to address that shortfall, Governor Dayton will seek the assistance of the federal government and, if necessary, the state legislature to appropriate additional funding to ensure that all Minnesotans who seek and qualify for LIHEAP assistance under the new eligibility guidelines will receive help in the remaining months of winter. Governor Dayton notified state legislative leaders today that if the federal government does not provide additional LIHEAP funding for Minnesota, he plans to include $17 million of state funds for the program in his supplemental budget proposal, which will be completed shortly after the release of the upcoming state budget forecast. That action, which was implemented February 4 by the state’s Commissioner of Commerce, means an estimated 120,000 more Minnesota households will now qualify for assistance from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). The Minnesota Department of Commerce estimates that because of this change, an additional 30,000 to 40,000 newly-eligible Minnesotans will apply for heating assistance this winter.”

The same dilemma spared no geographical region of the U.S., reaching deep into the southwest to affect even Texas, whose largest utility provider Entergy Texas Inc. raced in February to get the word out to customers across the state that in the wake of Texas being “hit with several bouts of extremely cold weather this winter … that is heating up many customers’ electric bills,” they had just received the good news to pass on of “the Federal government (releasing) … LIHEAP funds to help low-income, elderly and disabled Texas residents pay their energy bills … just in time.” The utility’s President of Customer Service Vernon Pierce argued that, based on what Entergy was witnessing locally in terms of struggle among their most vulnerable customers, the emergency was real in terms of need for the contingency funds because “when inclement weather hits and affects utility bills, it creates an added strain on their budgets, so we’re working hard to get the word out that help is available.”

In Oklahoma, where the Governor’s office shared that “more than $1 million in funds has been distributed to 3,753 Oklahomans” amid propane shortages and skyrocketing demand, the Tri-County Herald reported that Governor Mary Fallin had “issued an executive order January 31 for DHS to expedite applications for federal Low Income Housing Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and Energy Crisis Assistance Program (ECAP) financial aid.” Congressman Mark Wayne Mullin added his thanks for the governor’s actions, speaking out on behalf of his constituents who no doubt called in quantity to ask for a helping hand given what the U.S. Representative highlighted as “continued extreme cold” that had “affected many Oklahomans who rely on propane to heat and operate their home. This extension by the FMCSA is good news because it will help facilitate more deliveries from commercial trucks bringing propane to Oklahoma and other states affected by the shortage.”

Out west in North Dakota, a heating oil scarcity mirroring that of the East Coast was under way, reflecting the true reach of LIHEAP as the frigid weather invaded Native American reservations, with the Washington Times reporting on “a propane crisis on the Standing Rock Reservation in the Dakotas … As many as 5,000 homes on the reservation that straddles the North Dakota-South Dakota border rely on propane for heat. But as residents struggled to afford higher propane prices tied to a nationwide shortage, in particular during the subzero Arctic air that blanketed the region in late January, a serious crisis arose. Many couldn’t afford the fuel, scarce following supply disruptions, a late and wet harvest and cold weather across the U.S.”

Local non-profit organizations in the area raced to aid the reservation’s freezing residents, many of whom were placed at greater risk by what the Episcopal News Service chronicled as the dangerously under-weatherized state of homes in a region where “two counties that Standing Rock encompasses, Sioux County in North Dakota and Corson County in South Dakota, have the seventh and ninth highest poverty rates, respectively, in the country, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics reported. Most reservation residents are Sioux Indians. Between 80 and 90 percent of the people on the reservation depend on propane. That’s about 5,000 homes whose residents are at some level of risk … [and] many reservation residents live in houses with ill-fitting doors, single-pane windows or boards where glass used to be and roof that leak heat. Keeping such homes warm is especially expensive.”

Even with The Associated Press’s report that “about 1,100 homes have been helped through a $1.7 million grant from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program,” Tribal chair Dave Archambault told the AP that “the money will be welcome but likely won’t be enough to bring Standing Rock’s program up to normal funding. The tribe’s LIHEAP program has only $1.5 million available this winter, down from $2.5 million last winter because of federal budget cuts.” As part of the reservation demographic that fell between the cracks, the AP highlighted the example of “some 500 reservation residents who didn’t qualify under the federal program were assisted through a $500,000 donation from the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux tribe in Minnesota,” supplemental aid was being provided directly by The Episcopal Church’s non-profit fund as well. Sharing via their news service that the church was reaching out “through a network of very small mission churches that are spread over vast expanses of land” to aid freezing reservation residents, coordinating relief efforts spearheaded by “Episcopal Relief & Development … partnering with the Dakota dioceses and their network of churches on Standing Rock to help them minister this winter in a number of ways … First, the church will work with the tribal government to assist tribal members who can’t afford propane. Second, it will be able to help some of the ‘most vulnerable’ reservation residents who are ineligible for tribal assistance, Mears said, and those who, like the woman at the gas station, have the added burden of cold weather-related property damage … The church also plans to teach reservation residents about alternative-fuel heating as well as teach winterization and energy conservation skills at four free church suppers across the reservation.”

On February 10, Governor Jack Dalrymple responded to the tribal crisis by “direct[ing] the Department of Human Services to help the Standing Rock tribe assess the reservation’s potential need for more aid under the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program,” according to The Herald, reporting that the Governor had reached across state lines to “South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard last month” to take even more aggressive action when both leaders “issued waivers allowing commercial truck drivers who transport propane to work longer hours, since they have had to wait longer to load at terminals and have had to drive father to obtain propane.” Commenting personally on the necessity of the directive, Governor Dalrymple sought to reassure concerned constituents that “we will continue working to get more propane into the local supply chain and to help North Dakota residents get the assistance they need. Industry leaders are reporting that supplies in North Dakota should be improving.”

Households throughout Nevada were battling not only similarly freezing temperatures but were also soldiers in the fight to keep up with skyrocketing heating fuel prices, with the Nevada Daily Mail confirming that residents around the state were facing challenges “similar to that of many Midwest propane users. Between October 2013 and now, the propane industry and its consumers have battled a myriad of problems. Last fall, farmers throughout the Midwest consumed more gallons of propane than in years past to dry wet grain crops. While agricultural needs momentarily put a high demand on propane supplies, further blocks would come closer to winter. By the end of November, the Cochin Pipeline System temporarily shut down for repairs, causing a three-week pinch in supply, which ran through mid-December. Cochin carries propane 1,900 miles through Canada, North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa and Indiana, forcing propane distributors to seek stock in more southern states. The need to move propane to these areas by truck further drove up the price for consumers.”

Media Release: Major Mayors Sign on to Letter Asking President Obama for Increased LIHEAP Funding

February 25th, 2014

WASHINGTON, DC – Citing a significant uptick in extreme weather conditions over the past year, eighteen major city Mayors from across the country, including St. Louis, Los Angeles, Boston and Philadelphia, wrote President Obama requesting that he include at least $4.7 billion in funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) in his FY2015 budget.

Mayors across the country recognize the necessity of LIHEAP in providing crucial resources to keep heat and cooling running during these tough economic times. The letter directly calls President Obama to increase this crucial funding to those who need the most help – seniors, households with children under five, veterans and the disabled.

“We’re already seeing the demand for LIHEAP funds surge this year thanks to the lowest winter temperatures in decades for some parts of the country. The nation’s poverty rate is at 15 percent, with almost 22 percent of children living in poverty,” LIHEAP Campaign Director Brandon Avila explains. “These troubling poverty figures coupled with increased energy instability for our most vulnerable populations underscore the importance of this program – demand is quickly outpacing the resources currently available to the program.

LIHEAP offices are reporting a record number of applicants this winter in what has become a perfect storm for the program: responding to a tough winter while maintaining enough resources to respond to additional needs later in the year. Since FY2010, LIHEAP funding has declined by 30 percent (from $5.1 billion in 2009 to $3.4 billion in 2014) as energy prices continue to rise. Continued cuts to the LIHEAP program will only hurt those trying hard to make send meet in these tough economic times.

Signatories to the Letter
Francis G. Slay St. Louis, Missouri
Martin J. Walsh Boston, Massachusetts
Eric Garcetti Los Angeles, California
Jonathan Rothschild Tucson, Arizona
Michael Nutter Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Betsy Hodges Minneapolis, Minnesota
Stephanie Rawlings-Blake Baltimore, Maryland
Mike Duggan Detroit, Michigan
Greg Stanton Phoenix, Arizona
Michael Brennan Portland, Maine
Jon Mitchell New Bedford, Massachusetts
Vincent C. Gray Washington, DC
Angel Taveras Providence, Rhode Island
Charlie Hales Portland, Oregon
Pedro E. Segarra Hartford, Connecticut
Carolyn G. Goodman Las Vegas, Nevada
Rusty Bailey Riverside, California
Patrick D. Cannon Charlotte, North Carolina

The full letter can be found here.
A PDF of the release can be found here.

About the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)
Since its inception in 1981, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) has evolved into a widely supported, highly effective program that delivers critical short-term aid to our most vulnerable neighbors with heating, cooling, weatherization and energy crisis assistance. LIHEAP is an essential resource for the country’s most underserved populations, including the working poor, the disabled and the elderly living on fixed incomes.
www.liheap.org

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