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MAY, 2016 LIHEAP NEWS WRAP-UP: Gearing Up For Summer

Reporting by Jake Brown
The Coloradoan, in partnership with Inside Energy and Rocky Mountain PBS, lead headlines for the month of May with an eye-opening spotlight feature on the plight that “families living at low income levels pay more than they can afford for their home utility bills, and energy assistance programs designed to help make up the difference struggle to meet demand.”  Commonly known among utility insiders and advocates as the “Home Energy Affordability Gap,” the national picture is as bleak as Colorado’s, especially in view of Inside Energy’s map displaying the national picture of this plight:

 

 Energy Assistance Gap Graphic
(Source: Jordan Wirfs-Brock/Inside Energy)

 

Drawing attention to the key fact that “the federal government’s Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, provides by far the largest source of funding in the nation to help the poor with power bills,” the Coloradoan revealed that “the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service estimates only 22 percent of those eligible for LIHEAP assistance receive it.”

 

Decrying this affordability gap from the Midwest, Dalitso Sulamoyo – President & CEO of the Illinois Association of Community Action Agencies – delivered a scathing editorial critique of the fact that “As Illinois approaches a whole year without a state budget, all social service agencies are struggling to find ways to continue to provide vital programs to the most vulnerable Illinoisans. While parts of the budget have continued to operate due to court decrees, continuing appropriations and special budgets passed last year, there is still critical funding for human services that has remained trapped due to the 2016 budget impasse.”

 

Speaking directly to the impact of this impasse on critical LIHEAP funding being released, Mr. Sulamoyo sought to underscore that “special funds are financed by fees and surcharges that are not part of the funding mechanism of the General Revenue Fund. For example, Illinois law requires regulated utilities to charge their customers a small fee to fund the state’s Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which helps low-income senior citizens, persons with disabilities and families with kids under the age of 6 pay their utilities.  The money the utilities collect is intended only for LIHEAP. And, even if the funds are not appropriated for spending, the utilities are still remitting the collected funds to the state. The collected funds could be used to help people in need of utility assistance, instead of sitting idle as we wait for a budget solution.  Just like federal pass-through funds, special funds do not add to the structural deficit of the state’s operating budget.The General Assembly must consider appropriating federal pass-through and special funds through a standalone budget should there not be an agreement on the 2017 budget. This will ensure that more than a million of Illinois’ most vulnerable residents who are seeking necessary programs and support from social services will be served.”

 

Meanwhile, gearing up for summer, Community Action Agencies around the country began announcing their Summer Cooling programs, including in neighboring Missouri, Channel 7 KOAM broadcast the welcome news among already-sweltering residents that the “Economic Security Corporation of Southwest Area (ESC) will be able to ease the summer electric burden to low-income families in Barton, Jasper, Newton and McDonald Counties. In addition, minor air conditioner problems may be made to assist homeowners with repairs. The Community Action Agency will be taking applications for households who need relief with their electric cooling source…The amount of funding that is available is $208,593.00, these monies are provided through the Energy Crisis Intervention Program (ECIP), which is part of the Missouri Department of Social Services, Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).”

 

Down in the traditionally scorching South, local television station WMPI broadcast relief in the form of the news that the “Mobile Community Action Agency will start scheduling appointments for people interested in the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program or LIHEAP on Tuesday May 31st. The program is designed is to help income challenged families pay for rising power bills during hot summer months.”  Putting a face on the kind of average, working class family their program helped, Channel 15 interviewed Janice Avery, who’d moved to help care for her ailing grandmother.  Requiring full-time care, Janice couldn’t afford to leave her side for even a few minutes, let alone a few hours a week to work a part-time job to help out with bills, singing LIHEAP’s praises for playing a major role in helping to make up that shortfall, so much so that “if I didn’t have this program, I’d probably be lost somewhere.  It means a lot because they go out their way to try to help you as best they can. And when you don’t have it and somebody else has it to give to you, it’s a blessing.”

 

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