Writing and reporting by Jake Brown
Activist Bloggers took to social media to promote the importance of LIHEAP as a key agenda item for the incoming administration heading into January, 2017, a perfect time to push for such prioritization during the height of winter when vulnerable households rely on the program most, as Politic365.com reported on “first-hand” when one of its chief writers witnessed “the demand on the part of Georgia’s low income consumers for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). Georgia opened up its open enrollment for the program on December 1 and my mother asked if I could take her to a Fulton County office so that she could renew her benefits. I observed a wide age range of individuals, mostly black American or female, waiting patiently to see an intake counselor. As my mother completed a few forms, I asked the intake counselor if the demand for the program was increasing. She politely said yes as she gave my mother a few forms to sign. I then asked the big question: ‘Is funding increasing or decreasing?’ She quietly with a faint amount of resignation said decreasing, explaining briefly that budgets have been continuously cut for the program.”
A community effort to spread the word on the availability of such heating assistance around the country as winter hit Southern and Northeastern states alike, Pennsylvania’s Delaware County was even enlisting local law enforcement in the effort to connect society’s most vulnerable citizens with the helping hand LIHEAP had to offer them, with County Councilman Dave White noting that “Delaware County has many programs that assist people year-round, but we want to stress that extra precautions are taking place during the winter months. We especially want our local police and social services agencies to know about these resources as they come in contact with residents who might need help… It’s important for residents to know about these services so we can look out for each other. No one should suffer through a blizzard without shelter or heat.”
Nearby in Rhode Island, news was not so good where funding availability was concerned for one local community in need that received the bad news that “with frigid temperatures in the forecast, some Rhode Islanders are facing a delay in receiving their home heating assistance, the Target 12 Investigators have learned.” Thanks to a WPRI Ch 12 TV news feature on how the delay in funding would affect residents throughout the state’s capital of Providence, the television station reported that the Tri-County Community Action Agency was not among 5 of 6 other CAAs who had already received their LIHEAP funding for the season, causing Ashley O’Shea, communications director for the R.I. Executive Office of Health and Human Services, to reassure worried residents that even though “there was an unavoidable delay in contracting with one agency, we anticipate that those funds will be sent to that agency on Friday and confirmation letters will go out early next week enabling the fuel deliveries.”
Back down South in Kentucky, Mountain News of Eastern Kentucky, WYMT, was helping Perry County LIHEAP Director Judy Keen get the word out to households around her region that LIHEAP assistance was still available even after 852 families had already been helped, speculating that “I think the warm weather has caused people not to come in” while still encouraging her fellow Kentuckians to seek help if “they heat with the electric, or they’re behind on their electric bill or have been disconnected, we can issue them a 30-day extension, working with the power company keeping them from being disconnected for 30 days,” an avoidable fate if the county’s crisis grant was taken advantage of before the end of December.
Up in the Midwestern state of Iowa, a similar concern was voiced by longtime state LIHEAP administrator and advocate Jerry McKim, who warned Radio Iowa listeners that help was available to help avoid unfortunate, life-threatening patterns where “in an effort to better afford their utility bills, a lot of those elderly households will cut back on their prescribed medicine, or they set their thermostats too low, already risking their insecure health.” The Director, who regarded the poverty aspect of LIHEAP as “more than an energy issue…in my world,” pointed to the working poor as another equally-exposed demographic who often, in an effort to do more with less, “might have used unsafe methods of heating that increase the risk of carbon dioxide poisoning, and those who live by candle light increase the likelihood of a house fire tragedy.”
Out in the Pacific Northwest, concerned utilities like Puget Sound Energy cautioned customers that with “the weather changing, now is the time to prepare for the onset of colder temperatures. We’re here to provide you with suggestions to help you save on your home heating costs.” Setting up a special website devoted to and “loaded with information to help you reduce your heating expenses during the cold months ahead.” Along with links to LIHEAP assistance, the utility offered “some of their most popular tips to help struggling households avoid making the kind of aforementioned impossible choices, PSE recommends tips like adjusting “your thermostat to 68 degrees Fahrenheit when you’re at home and awake. Lower to 60 degrees Fahrenheit when you’re asleep or away and save 10 percent on your heating; Change your furnace air filters…(to) keep air flowing efficiently, and can lower natural gas consumption by up to 2 percent; and Washing clothes in cold water vs. warm or hot…(water, which) uses 90 percent more energy. Using cold water is a great way to save.”