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The NEAR hotline is maintained by the LIHEAP Clearinghouse, a program of the US Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families. It is not affiliated with the Campaign for Home Energy Assistance.

 

Blog

Jan/Feb 2017 LIHEAP News Wrap Up

Seasons Change, LIHEAP Demand Remains

Writing and Reporting by Jake Brown

 

As freezing weather was starting to thaw out in parts of the country, advocates in communities small and large issued warnings about emergency aid enrollment cut-off deadlines or utilities and cautioned customers about moratorium expirations. Regarding the FY2018 budget, Politic365.com led with an impassioned headline arguing that “President Trump Should Listen to the Senate on LIHEAP.” The article quoted Chairman of Energy Equity Alliance Joe Gibbons saying “there may officially be one more month of winter left, but this does not mean that we stop thinking about ways to increase funding for the Low Income Heating and Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP)…Budget negotiations for fiscal year 2018 will begin, in earnest, in a few weeks when President Trump submits his first budget to Congress…Endorsing the bi-partisan efforts to increase LIHEAP and WAP spending that we see shaping up in the Senate would be a great start.”

 

Pointing to the coming summer months where LIHEAP provides relief from 100+ degree days and deadly heat waves, a bi-partisan letter co-signed by 44 U.S. Senators from across the United States – including such longtime program warriors as Maine Sen. Susan Collins, Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed, Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, MA Sen. Ed Markey, CA Sen. Dianne Feinstein, N.M.’s Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) and newcomers like Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, Iowa’s Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Washington State’s Sen. Maria Cantwell, and Hawaii Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI)- addressed the new President and echoed the importance LIHEAP plays “during the peak winter heating and summer cooling seasons, when energy bills can comprise roughly 30 percent of a low-income household’s monthly income. Sadly, though, the number of households eligible for LIHEAP assistance continues to exceed the program’s capacity.”

 

The NASDAQ raised LIHEAP to the top of their headlines in February as PECO – a publicly-traded utility- alerted vulnerable households, which are in some cases months behind on their winter energy bills, that help was still available with LIHEAP funds. “Customers are leaving money on the table that could help keep their electric and natural gas service on. PECO does not want to have to shut off service because customers have fallen behind on their bill because they did not submit an application for funding,” the utility reported.  Encouraging over 50,000 eligible customers in the arrears to apply and with $51 million remaining in Pennsylvania’s LIHEAP fund, PECO’s manager of Universal Services Patricia King admitted “we are concerned that some customers are not taking advantage of the money that will help keep their light and heat on.  This is important grant money that customers do not have to pay back. LIHEAP grants are first come, first served so it is essential that customers submit their application now before money runs out.”

 

Spotlighting the underlying driver to these perpetual cycles of struggles to keep the power on, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies last month published an alarming report that cited “37% of low-income households struggling to address energy needs did not seek medical or dental attention, 34% did not fill medical prescriptions or failed to take the recommended dosages, 33%  used an oven or stove to heat the home, 24% did not consume food for at least one day, 23%  maintained a home temperature that was unhealthy or unsafe, and 19%  became ill due to low home temperatures.”

 

Noting the crippling impact this poverty can have within the household, the Center noted that “without energy service, low-income households find it difficult to function. Energy is necessary to stay warm in the winter, avoid heat stroke on dangerously hot summer days, refrigerate perishables, cook food, and power home medical devices.  Adults and children need energy service at home a to be productive at work and school.”  Closing with a review of the slide in funding over the past few fiscal years, the Center pinned the percentage of decline in funding to a staggering “30% and the number of households served has declined by 14%.  In FY 2015, LIHEAP received $3.39 billion in congressional funding, but only $3.36 billion in FY 2016.  For FY 2017, the House Appropriations Committee proposed $3.49 billion for LIHEAP funding, while the Senate Appropriations Committee proposed $3.36 billion.”

 

Meanwhile, as news raced across the Heartland and out West, elected officials were working alongside community action agencies and related advocates to spread the word of the availabilty of assistance, with Indiana State Rep. Joseph Petrarca sounding the alarm to his constituent households that “while it’s been a relatively mild winter so far, I urge anyone who may be eligible to inquire before the March 31 application deadline.  LIHEAP offers one-time cash grants of $200 to $1,000 that are sent directly to the utility company, and crisis benefits of $25 to $500 for households in immediate danger of losing heat.”  Out in Oregon, the issue wasn’t assistance still available that wasn’t being claimed but rather the dilemma facing local CAAs of running out of funding early, with KTVZ reporting that as a consequence, a popular LIHEAP center, Neighbor Impact, was being forced to shut down early because “the funds provided through the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) have been exhausted this year and there has been no word on if or when the federal government will be releasing additional funds, the agency said. In the past, NeighborImpact has received an additional 10 percent allocation to help clients.”

 

Seeking to keep the door open as long as possible to take appointments from families still needing assistance, Energy Assistance Program manager Joyce Cranston explained that an additional contributor had been the overflow of families helped this fall, explaining that “our program has been hit hard this season due to the weather.  Between October 1, 2016 and February 8, 2017 we have served 5,226 people in our Energy Assistance program.  We have pledged over $1.3 million from our state and federal funding for energy assistance already this season.  These pledges have spent out our federal LIHEAP funds.  We are trying to keep up, but the need for assistance has far outpaced the funding we have available.  NeighborImpact will continue to receive monthly OEA funding, however, that funding is restricted to Pacific Power customers and will be available on a first-come, first-served basis each month.  We have also had to reduce staffing and cut back on the number of appointments we take.”

 

 

 

Sources:

  1. http://politic365.com/2017/02/27/president-trump-should-listen-to-the-senate-on-liheap/
  2. http://www.nasdaq.com/press-release/peco-telling-delinquent-customers-to-apply-now-for-liheap-20170220-00580
  3. https://www.reed.senate.gov/news/releases/reed-collins-and-colleagues-urge-trump-to-boost-funding-for-heating-assistance_weatherization-programs
  4. http://jointcenter.org/sites/default/files/Ensuring%20Energy%20for%20Low%20Income%20Households%20of%20Color%20.pdf
  5. http://www.pahouse.com/Petrarca/InTheNews/NewsRelease/?id=82699
  6. http://www.ktvz.com/news/neighborimpact-cuts-back-power-bill-help-as-funds-run-dry/332112440

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