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Latinos & LIHEAP: Bridging the Awareness Gap

Writing and reporting by Jake Brown

 

As the fastest-growing new demographic in American society, the largely working-class Latino community continues to experience many of the same economic challenges of other minority groups centered in urban areas, be it basics like employment opportunities and what Fox News Latino has highlighted as “energy affordability…a crucial issue for millions of American families, including in particular many Hispanic families, who have seen their median household wealth decrease by 14.3 percent from 2010 to 2013.”

 

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) and Energy Efficiency For All (EEFA) published a report exposing the fact that among low-income Latino and African American households throughout major American Metropolitan areas that home energy costs take up a disproportionately large percentage of their monthly bills, revealing that in recent years, low-income, working class families pay almost two-times higher the amount of their income on utility bills than middle and upper income demographics. Reporting among its findings that “low-income households, renters, African American households and Latino households all paid more for utilities per square foot than the average household. This, the report suggests, could indicate that these low-income households reside in less efficient housing.”

 

Reinforcing that position, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity published its own finding this year with a focus on the fact that “the impacts of high energy costs are falling disproportionately on minorities and senior citizens. Black and Hispanic households together represent 26% of U.S. households. Elderly households represent 23% of American households. Unlike young working families with the potential to increase incomes by taking on part-time work or increasing overtime, many fixed income seniors are limited to cost-of-living increases that may not keep pace with energy prices.”

 

Energy Equity Alliance brought attention to this disparity in February when they joined a sea of advocates from across the nation on Capitol Hill representing the country’s low-income energy consumers, including the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Hispanics in Energy, The Latino Coalition, and National Policy Alliance, while PBS, as recently as this past winter, on their flagship Sunday News Hour, profiled individual recipients of LIHEAP who consider the program a life-saving one, representing the Latino population with their spotlight on “Jorge Londono…40 years old…(with) four kids. His single-family home is equipped with an oil heater. He told us he couldn’t afford the upfront cost of having the oil company deliver the minimum of 100 gallons, so his family opted to switch on electric space heaters instead. Now he’s facing two electric bills totaling more than $1,000.”

 

Meanwhile, ElderCare, a non-profit organization dedicated to assisting the elderly – statistically LIHEAP’s consistently largest demographic – living on a fixed-income, often at or below the poverty level in connecting with assistance programs like the latter, citing as among their most constant challenges the fact that “many seniors are missing out on these benefits. The reasons are varied: lack of awareness about benefits, perceived (real or otherwise) complexity of applications, stigma associated with receiving entitlements, and not understanding who may be eligible. Likewise, those who already receive one benefit may not realize that they may be eligible to receive further support from other programs.”

 

Latinos routinely fall into this last category, handicapped by common obstacles like a language barrier, lack of awareness and a shortage of intake personnel who speak Spanish, with ElderCare pointing to the reality that “to meet the growing need of the Hispanic elderly, Eldercare Locator provides callers with an option to speak directly with a Spanish speaking information specialist. In 2006, the Hispanic elderly comprised 6.4% of the total United States elderly population. Furthermore, almost 2 in 5 elderly Hispanic/Latinos who speak Spanish only are linguistically isolated. Over the past year, Eldercare Locator has experienced an increase from 8% to 12% of Spanish speaking callers…With regards to benefits…10% about LIHEAP.”

 

That number would no doubt grow if this demographic weren’t battling the language barrier, and throughout Latino community action agencies around the country, this call of help is being answered heroically by an army of advocates like the Puerto Rican Action Committee of Southern New Jersey, who the Shore News Today reported on this roadblock that when Carmen Arocho-Gonzalez, director of the P.R.A.C., addressed “some 30 families at the Glenwood Avenue School…Arocho-Gonzalez spoke primarily in Spanish to the group, but couldn’t help breaking into English once, looking at her colleagues and saying, ‘Wow!’ Arocho-Gonzalez, the PRAC Home Energy Assistance Program Manager, had just asked who in the room had applied for the Low Income Heating and Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). ‘There was no one,’ she said. The PRAC, a non-governmental agency which offers a range of services to Spanish speakers and other members of the community, was trying to spread the word…‘We are trying to bring the parents information about home energy,’ Arocho-Gonzalez said. She said PRAC has been going out to schools and apartment complexes to let Spanish-speaking residents know about the program.”

 

Sources:

http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/opinion/2015/03/09/rep-eric-estevez-renewable-energy-yes-but-keep-it-affordable/

https://liheapch.acf.hhs.gov/news/apr16/energyburden.htm

http://americaspower.org/sites/default/files/Trisko-National-Family-Energy-Costs-June-2015-FINAL.PDF

http://energyequityalliance.org/press-releases/

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/bitter-cold-temperatures-push-americans-toward-poverty/

https://www.ncoa.org/wp-content/uploads/You-Gave-Now-Save-data-brief.pdf

http://www.shorenewstoday.com/wildwood/news/prac-helps-spanish-speakers-get-heating-assistance/article_d756ed60-bcdb-5fc5-b390-155e9355aa6e.html

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