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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.

 

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North Dakota: LIHEAP Country

Writing and Reporting by Jake Brown

 

Across the country, tens of millions of Americans are feeling the relief of dramatic fall in fuel prices in both their car and home heating prices, particularly in home-fuel heating heavy states like North Dakota, where just a couple years back, the opposite reality was reeking havoc across the state and particularly on Tribal Nation territories throughout the Native American-heavy population, where $4.60 a gallon prices at the time were crippling “our Native American brothers and sisters, as well as families all across North Dakota,” U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp attested at the time, adding that North Dakotans were “feeling the pain of two sharp swords – a particularly brutal winter and sky-high propane prices,” up from $2/gallon for home heating oil the previous year.

 

Those nation-wide supply shortages reinforced in 2014 just as they do today why LIHEAP routinely receives the ‘life-saving’ brand it does, especially after the Associated Press reported in February of that winter that the North Dakota Standing Rock tribe had “declared an emergency” as tribal and Sioux County authorities investigated “the death of Debbie Dogskin, 61, who died last week while house-sitting for a friend in a mobile home with an empty propane tank.”  Slamming home the reality of just how dangerous and immediately dire the situation on the ground was, the AP highlighted in its coverage the staggering statistic that “as many as 5,000 homes on the reservation that straddles the North Dakota-South Dakota border rely on propane, and many residents can’t afford the higher fuel prices tied to the shortage, according to Tribal Chairman Dave Archambault II.”

 

Governor Jack Dalrymple amid the crisis immediately following the report of the reservation resident’s death that he had “directed 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,” while the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux, who the AP reported stepped up to help at the time, privately sharing resources from their operation of “several enterprises including a casino and runs a charitable grant program…(gave) the Standing Rock Sioux $500,000 for propane.  The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux also is giving $300,000 to the Yankton Sioux Tribe in South Dakota and $70,000 to the Santee Sioux Nation in Nebraska for propane.”  Embracing these lifelines with both relief and gratitude, The Washington Times quoted of Shakopee Mdewakanton Chairman Charlie Vig’s statement in reaction to the assistance that “the thought of people struggling during such a harsh winter is unbearable.  We are happy to provide these grants, which will help ensure these tribes’ members are warm and cared for.”

 

Shedding light on just how vulnerable these tribes are to the life-threatening pitfalls of economic hardship, The Episcopalian Digital News Network revealed at the time that “the 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, according to Floberg.  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…In such conditions, a 500-gallon tank of propane lasts perhaps a month. It takes 400 gallons to fill such a tank, leaving room for the gas to expand. When propane costs $5 a gallon, as it recently did, a 400-gallon fill cost $2,000.”

 

In 2016, even with this heating oil crisis in the past, LIHEAP funding remains as critical as ever to these tribes to avoid tragedies like those that winter threatens by its naturally frigid nature for tens of thousands of rural and urban North Dakotan households, a point Senator Heitkamp drove home forcefully at the top of April, 2016 when she reminded the public with the announcement of $2.5 million in new program assistance that “North Dakotans know that the weather can change at a moment’s notice and we must make sure our state and tribes are prepared to help those most in need.  Today’s federal funding will help disadvantaged families and individuals afford their energy bills and weatherize their homes, saving money. A healthy household is critical to helping our friends and neighbors stay strong and safe in their homes.”  Fellow North Dakota U.S. Senator John Hoeven, echoing his colleague, added that “North Dakotans all understand the strain that high heating costs can put on a family’s budget today’s award, which will help low-income families heat their homes, complements our efforts to ensure that our nation has access to reliable and affordable energy so that our citizens can all pay their bills.”

 

With the state’s hot season fast approaching, Senator Heitkamp – who delivered $1,936,174 to the North Dakota State Government and $611,425 designated for Tribal Governments in North Dakota – argued that to prevent weather-related casualties like the latter, “families need to know they will have consistent support to meet some of their basic needs to stay warm during the brutal winters and cool their homes during our state’s hot summers.”  Trusting that these Native American nations know best how to disburse their own portion of the funding, North Dakota’s LIHEAP director, Carol Cartledge, Director of Economic Assistance Division of theNorth Dakota Department of Human Service confirmed that “Tribes receive their funding and approval of state plans directly from the Federal government.”

 

Sitting down with LIHEAP.org for an exclusive conversation about the current state of all things LIHEAP throughout her home state, Director Cartledge began by touching on other populations within the program’s demographic reach that along with the state’s Native American tribal territories were aided this winter, nothing that “consistent with previous years, almost 70% of the participating households include people who are elderly, have disabilities or include children age five and younger.  For 2014, the number of households receiving benefits was 13,370, with an average benefit per household of $1,321.”  In 2015, the Director noted that while the number of households receiving benefits fell slightly to 12, 605, so did the benefit level – a reflection of the battle back in Washington D.C. to maintain consistent funding levels – confirming that “the average benefit per household last year was $956.”

 

Putting a face with a helping hand, in 2015, Wendy Royston – a reporter for  Dakotafire Media –  profiled another particularly exposed demographic of LIHEAP assistance,    Single Mothers, spotlighting a powerful example of this aid in action with Jessica, a single mother of 3 from Brule County, who bravely and candidly shared her story:

 

“I was living on my savings and three part-time jobs…I was hustling to take care of my kids, bring in an income and find a new job as a single-parent household. … In rural communities, professional-level jobs take work and creativity to find. I didn’t have the luxury of time or money to be creative, and, fast food and hospitality (companies) weren’t hiring me full-time because I was over-qualified and not planning to be permanent.”

 

“At the time I applied for (LIHEAP) assistance, I was about three months into a search for full-time work … and the job search was taking longer than I expected. By mid-December I realized I needed to re-evaluate my money situation. It came to a head when I needed to fill fuel oil. I had a balance on my account, and they couldn’t give me a full fill… At one point, I did emotionally break down over trying to get help.”

 

“I wanted to make it on my own. I was making enough to pay my regular bills each month, but the fuel oil bill is a big bill to pay in a short amount of time. Once I realized I would need some help, I needed help right away. … The headache came in trying to get assistance quickly and all the phone calls I had to make to keep things on track… Heating assistance didn’t pay for my entire heating bill last winter, but it paid for enough to give me breathing room and not make a tough situation even worse. … In my normal situation, I plan and save for my winter heating fuel oil bill, but I didn’t plan to lose my job.”

 

(Source: Dakotafire.net)

 

Weatherization continues to play an important position in the push to help more households throughout North Dakota reach long-term independence from the necessity to rely on LIHEAP assistance, with Director Cartledge confirming that its prioritization is packaged into the program’s assistance paradigm, wherein “information on weatherization services are provided to LIHEAP households at the time of application and upon request. FFY2014 LIHEAP Household Reports showed Emergency Furnace Repair and Replacement with 715 households assisted while 820 households were assisted with weatherization.”

 

Highlighting the strides the state’s weatherization front has been making as of late, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in conjunction with the North Dakota Division of Community Services, published a report in recent years highlighting just how far these proactive efforts have traveled to make a lasting difference in the lives of South Dakotans, explaining on “seven local agencies deliver weatherization services to eligible residents in every county. The great distances between jobs and the extreme weather conditions often encountered inspire innovative solutions. The Community Action and Development Program carries a traveling inventory on a special truck/trailer rig that allows the crew members to travel together and bring all the necessary equipment and materials to each site. The trailer can be locked at night and left on location. This innovation has made the crews work more efficient and it reduces travel time and fuel costs.”

 

Honing in on specific examples of CAP agencies in action connecting households in need of being weatherized with the help they require, the state’s report shared that “the Community Action Region VI agency assisted a disabled client in LaMoure County with extensive heating and cooling retrofits. The agency then contacted the client’s electrical service provider to develop a system so that the furnace and water heater would operate at off-peak hours. The client could afford the off-peak electrical rate, thus eliminating the need for fuel assistance payments. This comprehensive approach not only boosted the client’s health and self-sufficiency, it liberated a portion of fuel assistance funds, which can be used to help another low-income household.  The Community Action Program Region VII and the Red River Valley Community Action agencies strive to educate all low-income residents in the community about the Weatherization Program. The agencies coordinate with regional councils, senior citizens centers, volunteer organizations like Christmas in April, utility companies, fuel vendors, landlords, and mobile home court owners. This comprehensive outreach effort also enables the agencies to identify additional resources for their clients and expand the services they deliver.”

 

Illustrating just how progressive the weatherization push had been to cover as many homes in need as possible, the NREL added in its summary that “several agencies in North Dakota have developed for-profit activities to help fund additional weatherization services. Agencies perform energy audits for housing programs, contractors, and homeowners that are not eligible for the Weatherization Program. The South Eastern North Dakota Community Action Agency performs inspection, analysis, and diagnostic testing of contractor-built homes to determine whether they merit designation as a Gas Premier Home by the regional utility. Agencies also leverage utility funds for client education activities and use landlord contributions for weatherization measures.”

 

Continuing, the NREL report concluded by triumphantly noting that “The Dakota Prairie Community Action Agency secured funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for a furnace repair and replacement program for two Native American reservations. The furnace program is delivered in tandem with weatherization services. North Dakota’s diverse efforts to mine additional resources really pay off for weatherization recipients. A RenvilleCounty fuel vendor saw weatherization work firsthand. A year after Community Action Opportunities, Inc., weatherized a home, the client’s fuel bill decreased by $500!”

 

Reviewing North Dakota’s outlook as a healthy one, Director Cartledge proudly points to the fact that every household in need of LIHEAP assistance was served this winter, noting that “Federal funds have been sufficient to meet North Dakota’s needs, no additional state funding needed,” following a positive trend where she adds in closing that “North Dakota has historically been able to meet the heating assistance needs of qualifying state residents with the federal dollars it receives.  The program fulfills its purpose by helping low-income households with home heating costs by paying a portion of the bill.”

 

Sources:

https://www.ndsu.edu/bisonconnection/finaid/assistanceprograms/fuelassistance/

http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/ens/2014/02/17/church-tries-to-help-reservation-chilled-by-propane-crisis/

http://dakotafire.net/people/programs-provide-heating-help-thousands/7937/

http://politicalnews.me/?id=38193&keys=LIHEAP-FUNDS-TRIBES-HEATING

http://www.heitkamp.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/2014/1/heitkamp-announces-federal-funds-for-thousands-of-low-income-north-dakota-families-to-help-heat-their-homes

http://northdakota.realestaterama.com/2016/04/04/heitkamp-announces-over-2-5-million-in-federal-funding-to-help-nd-seniors-families-tribes-heat-and-cool-their-homes-ID0379.html

http://www.hoeven.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/2016/4/hoeven-announces-more-than-2-5-million-in-additional-liheap-funding-for-north-dakota

http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/ens/2014/02/17/church-tries-to-help-reservation-chilled-by-propane-crisis/

http://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy02osti/30685.pdf

 

 

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