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October 2016 LIHEAP News Wrap-Up

Writing and reporting by Jake Brown

 

Massachusetts Senior U.S. Senator Edward Markey sounded the warning bell loudly around his home state that even with the good news of $131 million being released in winter heating assistance in October, “we are heading into what could potentially be a home heating disaster this winter for consumers in New England…given the potentially massive spikes in heating costs that consumers in our region are forecast to face this winter.”  A crisis that concerned him on the numbers with the projection of a 40% increase in heating costs over 2015, Markey cautioned that experts projected that Northeastern households run on heating oil are expected to pay nearly $400 more to warm their homes this winter, while the news wasn’t much better for those houses heated by natural gas and propane, estimated to be paying $200 and $350 more respectively per household.

 

U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte led a bi-partisan effort – demonstrative of LIHEAP’s universal assistance across all political demographics – to ramp up funding for this essential winter survival tool for millions of families around the country when she not only helped author a letter encouraging the White House to raise funding for FY2017 to the $4.7 billion appropriation almost every expert and advocate on both the governmental and private (i.e. utility, CAA, etc) sides of the argument agree is necessary to serve the true demand for the program.  Local New Hampshire news agencies singled Senator Ayotte out the fact that she forcefully “voiced concerns that the number of eligible households for LIHEAP assistance would continue to outnumber available funding as the average cost of home heating is expected to remain unaffordable for many households across the nation.”

 

Speaking specifically to her New England constituency who rely on LIHEAP for this very purpose throughout the traditionally frigid winters, the Senator announced the welcome news that “we are pleased that HHS has released these important LIHEAP funds, especially as temperatures are beginning to drop,” joining fellow New Hampshire U.S. Senator U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen in delivering the news that more than $25 million in heating assistance was on the way in underscoring the fact that “LIHEAP assistance is critical for low-income families and seniors in helping to pay their energy bills during our cold winter months. No one should have to choose between paying for heating and paying for necessities like groceries or medication.” Meanwhile, neighboring Rhode Island U.S. Senator Jack Reed – who secured a much-needed injection of $22.4 million in winter funding – doubled down on his applause of Washington for “releasing this vital funding to help states like Rhode Island prepare for the upcoming winter. It is critical to get this assistance to those who need it most.”

 

Yahoo News reported that in Pennsylvania, a progressive leader in the effort to ramp up weatherization around the state as part of LIHEAP’s funding initiative, ended the month celebrating the 40th anniversary of the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Weatherization Day, with Governor Tom Wolf going as far as signing an official state proclamation declaring October 30th, 2016 Pennsylvania Weatherization Day to recognize “the dedicated work being done to improve the energy efficiency of homes…(and where the state) recognizes the energy efficiency improvements, such as heating and cooling upgrades and the addition of insulation, weather-stripping to doors, and windows, and the significant impact these improvements have on Pennsylvania families.”  Governor Wolf – a strong LIHEAP proponent – followed the proclamation with the announcement with the refreshing news that $18.5 million in late-year funding for the state’s winter heating season, stating loud and clear that “making sure all Pennsylvanians are safe and healthy is my top priority. It is essential that we ensure that every Pennsylvanian has a warm home and I encourage anyone who needs this assistance to apply through COMPASS or at their local county assistance offices.”

 

Drawing the attendance of Dennis Davin, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Community and Economic Development, reminding the public still eligible to enroll that it was the smart move “as cold weather approaches, many families across the commonwealth are turning up their thermostats. For low-income families, the winter months can quickly become a financial burden. Through the department’s Weatherization Assistance Program, we are providing assistance to combat that challenge by providing permanent solutions to reduce energy costs and increase safety year round.  Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) Secretary Ted Dallas shined a spotlight on the fact that not only was the weatherization effort possible, but by extension, “this federally funded program provided hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians a warm place to live during last winter.  That numbers includes thousands of the commonwealth’s most vulnerable citizens including elderly, children and individuals living with a disability. The administration is proud of the work the program provides and encourages recipients who need assistance with heating bills to apply before the worst of the winter weather arrives.”

 

Partner Action Housing Inc. was on hand too to celebrate the fact that since 1977, the Department of Community and Economic Development – through local partnerships like the aforementioned – had responded to 114,620 heating crisis emergencies and successfully weatherize 535,176 homes, with Executive Director Larry Swanson proudly noting that “ACTION-Housing started implementing this program 35 years ago.  What started as inspection audits has evolved into truly life-changing work. Since its inception, we have fixed an estimated 41,000 homes. This program allows us to alleviate the burden of utility bills for our clients, and we continue to eradicate many unsafe living conditions. Naturally, this kind of work gives birth to compelling stories.”

 

In the Midwest, hard-hit Illinois, scrambling to make up for the State Government budget standoff that froze LIHEAP funding for much of 2016, announced that their final round of enrollment for the year was set to launch at the top of November, with Sangamon County Community Resources Board member /program director Sharmin Doering reminding residents in need that “it is a first come first serve program.”  Reflecting the intense level of demand for assistance among residents in Springfield were mirroring as part of a pattern around the state as a whole, where Doering told Fox Illinois that “we see between 40 and 50 households each day. We are working very hard to get in as many families as we can.”

In neighboring Indiana, a massive $67 million lifeline was thrown from Washington to help keep Hoosiers battle Jack Frost, with the state’s Director of the Office of Community Services, responsible for disbursing the funds, noting the safety that lifeline provides against “unsafe indoor temperatures are unacceptable conditions for anyone to live in, especially for seniors and families with young children.  With these LIHEAP funds helping households in Indiana with limited incomes pay their home heating and cooling bills, these families and individuals can use their income to pay for other critical necessities such as food and medicine.”

In Kentucky, to ensure communication between those in need and those who enroll families in that position had the best chance of handling the highest volume of enrollees, the Louisville Metro Community Services announced in October the introduction of a new, high-tech automated online and telephone appointment system.  Designed to improve the application process as demand traditionally grows as the winter season deepens, in Lexington, WTVQ shared the Community Action Council’s announcement with central Kentucky of the same crucial window in which urban and rural households can apply, noting of the real difference the funds made to the region that “in 2015 the Council’s LIHEAP Subsidy program served more than 5,000 households and spent $546,996 to help keep families warm over the winter.  Community Action Council also sponsors several other assistance programs, such as the WinterCare Energy Fund supported by area utility companies and their customers.  The Council spent approximately $2.0 million through all of its energy assistance programming last year.”

 

Next door in Ohio, U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown brought home the good news that $131 million in LIHEAP assistance was heading to Ohio in time for the holidays to help “hundreds of thousands” who “rely on the program to keep their heat turned on during the winters.  As the temperature begins to drop, it’s a relief that Ohio will have the resources needed to ensure that seniors and low-income families stay warm and healthy.”  To give the Buckeye State another round of relief, Governor John Kasich this fall declared “a state of energy emergency” noting that because “regional propane inventories are low, causing product allocations and restricted fill volumes for some customers,” as well as due to the cold inhibiting the delivery by “carriers and drivers transporting propane and heating oil to address transportation issues arising from severe weather, heavy snowfall, and difficult driving conditions in Ohio.”

 

Up in the frozen winter territory of Iowa and Minnesota, the news was delivered to both states simultaneously by a unique local news channel – KIMT.com, advertised as “Iowa and Minnesota together” – warned viewers that the region’s first “big freeze” was arriving, sending temperatures plummeting into the low 30s for the start of what promised to a season that stayed stuck in such chilly-ville for the foreseeable future.  Acting fast to get the word out ahead of the storm, local CAAs like the North Iowa Community Action were already taking applications for the elderly and disabled, alerting the rest of their applicant pool to sign up quickly for assistance as “we have seen an increase in the last couple of weeks.  Folks must apply every year for the process, and the program is designed to pay for a portion of your bill, not all of it.”

 

Down South, the temperature was the same in the demand pool, with CAA hotlines heating up around states like South Carolina with requests for winter assistance, especially after word of $31,670,297 filtered down, motivating the Director of the Office of Community Services at HHS’ Administration for Children and Families Jeannie Chaffin to address the multiple-demographics that benefit from the protection the program’s funding provides from “unsafe indoor temperatures” that “are unacceptable conditions for anyone to live in, especially for seniors and families with young children.  With these LIHEAP funds helping households in South Carolina with limited incomes pay their home heating and cooling bills, these families and individuals can use their income to pay for other critical necessities such as food and medicine.”

 

Arkansas as moving up their enrollment start dates, allowing that “this time we’re starting off with regular and crisis both,” Crowley’s Ridge Development Council – one of the state’s largest Community Action Agencies, representing Jonesboro and surrounding counties including Craighead, Crittenden, Cross, Greene, Jackson, Poinsett, St. Francis and Woodruff – announced as the organization’s Human Services Coordinator went on television to maximize visibility for her announcement, emphasizing to ABC affiliate KAIT-TV Mid Day host Diana Davis in her encouragement that the public apply for assistance as early as possible that “I can’t stress how important this is.  I see people come in. I hear their stories, and some of them are heartbreaking.  Some of them just need help because a car broke down. Unexpected things that come up. And they just don’t have the money right now to pay the electric bill. That’s what we’re here for.  This time, we have enough funding that we are able to start out with crisis and regular assistance.”

 

 

Sources:

http://massachusetts.realestaterama.com/2016/10/27/markey-commends-release-of-heating-funds-as-new-england-heads-for-potential-home-heating-crisis-this-winter-ID01750.html
https://riponadvance.com/stories/health-care/ayotte-leads-bipartisan-effort-increase-funding-liheap-assistance
 www.wpri.com/2016/10/25/time-to-sign-up-if-you-need-winter-heating-help
https://www.yahoo.com/news/pennsylvania-dced-secretary-dennis-davin-attends-weatherization-demonstration-174000080.html http://dced.pa.gov/download/weatherization-day-october-30/?wpdmdl=67404
http://foxillinois.com/news/local/liheap-pipp-programs-sangamon-county-prepares-for-next-round-of-enrollment-10-24-2016
http://www.tribstar.com/news/local_news/liheap-money-for-indiana-announced/article_d99f6841-0db1-51cc-897d-f855213cdb20.html
http://ohiopropanegas.org/images/Documents/20140118_StateOfEnergyEmergency.pdf
http://www.lanereport.com/69395/2016/10/louisville-launches-automated-telephone-and-online-appointment-system-for-liheap/
http://www.wtvq.com/2016/10/27/energy-assistance-program-opens-tue-nov-1/
http://kimt.com/2016/10/12/first-big-freeze-of-the-year-means-folks-are-turning-on-the-heat/
http://manninglive.com/2016/10/26/federal-funding-released-help-families-south-carolina-heating-cooling-costs
http://www.kait8.com/story/32296386/liheap-assistance-to-be-made-available-soon

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