Campaign Statement on House Spending Bill

Washington, DC – This afternoon, the House Labor-HHS Appropriations Subcommittee passed a spending bill including $3.39 billion for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). This vote reflects funding levels consistent with FY2017 and, for many LIHEAP advocates, is a welcome number amid the current Administration’s call to eliminate all funding for the program.

The Appropriations bill will move to the full committee for consideration. The Senate Labor-HHS Subcommittee is anticipated to take up their version of the bill shortly. Final FY2018 LIHEAP investment will be resolved in negotiations later this year between the House, Senate and Administration.

LIHEAP is an efficient, targeted national program that provides temporary assistance to qualifying households, especially those with seniors, Veterans, individuals with disabilities or families with school-aged children, who are struggling with poverty and cannot keep their utilities on during the extreme cold of winter or heat of summer.

“As champions of the program, we commend the House for recognizing the importance of LIHEAP and standing up on behalf of the program through this appropriations bill,” said Michael Bracy of the Campaign for Home Energy Assistance, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that advocates on behalf of LIHEAP. “However, our work cannot stop here. The upcoming Congressional recess is the perfect opportunity to continue the conversation with our Representatives and Senators at home.”

 LIHEAP supporters have regularly called on Congress and the Administration to increase funding. The House’s proposal for flat funding is, in many ways, a victory for LIHEAP in an era of increasingly volatile negotiations and strained budgets. The proposed $3.39 billion funding level is enough to ensure the program continues in all 50 states, but it is not sufficient funding to expand the program’s reach to the millions of households that qualify for the program but do not currently receive assistance.

 To encourage and further promote the conversation around LIHEAP, the Campaign regularly connects with Congressional offices to provide state-based information and snapshots of how LIHEAP impacts families and local communities. The Campaign will continue to engage with policymakers on Capitol Hill and LIHEAP advocates across the country to educate individuals, families and lawmakers about the importance of LIHEAP for millions low-income families. For the latest news and information on LIHEAP, visit www.liheap.org.

Download a PDF of this press release.

June 2017 LIHEAP News Wrap Up

Extra LIHEAP Funding to the Rescue

Writing and Reporting by Jake Brown

LIHEAP Summer 2017

As Time Magazine warned that the heat waves sweeping the summer could lead to "extreme temperature conditions" and that heat strokes can "lead to a number of ailments or even death," the Federal Register offered a bit of welcomed news that unexpected additional LIHEAP funds totaling $3,253,866 were available to states, territories, tribes, and tribal organizations.

Demonstrating the diversity of communities who benefited from 2016's re-allotment, beneficiaries included a number of prominent Native American Tribal nations like Cocopah Tribe of Arizona, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, the Hoh Indian Tribe, Kalispel Indian Community of the Kalispel Reservation, Oglala Sioux Tribe, the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Pleasant Point, Poarch Band of Creeks, Quinault Indian Nation, and Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, The Chickasaw Nation, and states like Arkansas, Georgia, and not surprisingly Vermont. 

Back East in Pennsylvania, the Energy Association of PA (EAoP) warned that Pennsylvanians should take precautions when working outside in the extreme heat. EAoP President and CEO Terrance J. Fitzpatrick added that “Pennsylvania’s energy utilities want to educate the public on how to stay safe...and avoid potentially hazardous situations."

Continuing to be a crucial component to surviving the sweltering Southern summers, states like  Arkansas were hard at work getting word out about the availability of summer LIHEAP assistance. Pine Bluff-Jefferson County's Economic Opportunities Commission broadcasted that they were open for business to take both regular and crisis grants to households in need of help keeping the temperature turned down.  

Meanwhile, the Southern Alliance of Clean Energy featured a guest editorial by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy's Senior Policy Advisor Lowell Ungar. In his piece, Ungar illustrated the true wide-ranging reach of LIHEAP as a positive force within the communities it serves, noting that federal energy efficiency programs programs support "the largest job creator in the US energy sector – energy efficiency – which accounts for at least 2.2. million jobs."

Underscoring the risks of the traditionally scorching summers that the state of Texas was battling, the Dallas County Health and Human Services announced they were aiming "to increase the efficiency of energy usage in a safe manner for eligible Dallas County residents in low-income households," specifically prioritizing those homes with "elderly/disabled residents and households with children that are 5 years of age and younger" because "statistics show they are the most vulnerable to the high cost of energy. " 

In California, a brave face of LIHEAP, Rodolfo Galvan, spoke up on the difference the program made this past winter. Galvan, who was one of 1,404 households the Santa Barbara Community Action Commission assisted last year to the tune of $425,000 in utility assistance, candidly affirming that "I feel so much more comfortable in my home, this winter has been so much warmer after receiving a new furnace."

Insider Perspectives: LIHEAP & More

Campaign team members Julie Beltz and Claire Krawsczyn spent the first half of the week with leaders from across the energy assistance field. Over three days, the Campaign talked with dozens of LIHEAP advocates who are working tirelessly to provide energy assistance to households in need. 

Now, more than ever, the Campaign is dedicating time and resources into spreading awareness about the program to Members of Congress, politicians, activists, and other key decision makers.

Below are some of Julie and Claire's notable insights from our partners on critical issues facing LIHEAP and the communities it serves:

  • Integrated work between community-minded utilities like DTE and on-the-ground organizations like The Salvation Army is critical to moving energy assistance programs forward in innovative ways.
     
  • Researchers such as Libby Perl of Congressional Research Service and Travis McAdam of LIHEAP Clearinghouse continually review LIHEAP data, facts, and figures to ensure the most relevant information is publicly accessible to improve both LIHEAP and the policies that guide it.
     
  • DTE is proving that utilities can expand their customer service efforts to include under-represented audiences. DTE recently launched an effort to connect with Michigan's deaf and hard-of-hearing populations through a video-based interpretation service, making communication and in-home service calls more effective.
     
  • LIHEAP does not operate in a vacuum. Issues affecting the country, including racism, poverty, and institutional inequalities, often impact low-income households more significantly than the general population.
     
  • In direct-to-consumer communication and advocacy efforts, consider using the phrase "income-eligible households" as opposed to "low-income households" to reach a broader audience.
     
  • In the current political climate, it is more important than ever to document the wide-reaching impact of LIHEAP and the reality that it serves only a fraction of eligible households. Data capture and analysis reaffirm the necessity of the program and enable program directors to be more strategic with funds.  

If you have questions or are interested in learning more about these insights, please don't hesitate to contact us. We would love to discuss!

Heat Waves Haunt June

Air Conditioners & LIHEAP Hotlines Buzz to Life

Writing and Reporting by Jake Brown

Living up to the same sweltering  forecast as last summer, USA Today quoted AccuWeather Meteorologist Evan Duffey’s unsurprising June 11th prediction of “record highs from the Dakotas and down to Nebraska and Kansas all the way through the Northeast.  There should be at least a few records in each state across that swath.”

In anticipation of the coming heat waves following 4 heat wave-related deaths last summer, National Public Radio reported that  Philadelphia officials were acting fast, tapping LIHEAP funds to aid in setting up emergency cooling centers available to the public throughout the scorching summer, with the Public Utility Commissioner David Sweet directing an effort he said had a life-saving impact for the elderly in particular, both in terms of health and safety, as he reasoned that “perhaps are worried about crime, they have all the windows shut, all the doors shut, and either don’t own an air conditioner or can’t afford the electricity to run it and so they jeopardize their health.”

Next door in New Jersey, the public and private sectors were teaming up to help families struggling to stay cool after Atlantic City Electric joined forces with local non-profit People to People to launch ACE Helping Hands, explaining that “the grant will subsidize other energy assistance programs available to ACE customers such as the Universal Service Fund (USF), Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), New Jersey Shares, and the TRUE and Payment Assistance for Gas and Electric (PAGE) utility assistance programs.”

Down in the Southwest, the Oklahoma Department of Human Services announced a LIHEAP Broadcast Message as temperatures heated up that the state’s Open Enrollment period for Energy Crisis Assistance would be ending Friday, June 16th, 2017.  Noting of the difference this assistance made in keeping 182,000 families cool last summer of 2016,  between the Regular Energy Assistance Program and Life Threatening Energy Assistance Program available during the summer, the Dept. noted thathelp was available for a household’s “primary cooling utility bill between June through August during LIHEAP Summer Cooling enrollment period.”

PENNSYLVANIA: In the LIHEAP Spotlight

Writing and reporting by Jake Brown

Even as winter comes to an end, worry over LIHEAP funding continues around the nation, especially in Northeastern states like Pennsylvania, which defines the very geography of LIHEAP’s broad tapestry of demographics who count on energy assistance year round to help keep the lights on, the house warm in the winter, propane in the fuel tank on the farm, and even helps with long-term independence via the state’s progressive weatherization program.  Speaking exclusively with LIHEAP.org, Brian Whorl, Division Director of the Federal Programs and Program Management at the Department of Human Services, paints a picture on the ground as one where, without question, “LIHEAP is a crucial and life-saving program.” 

 

How broad a spectrum of energy-assistance services does LIHEAP actually provide to the household being helped, say in the brutal winter Pennsylvania just experienced?

It provides an initial LIHEAP Cash grant (minimum of $200 up to maximum of $1000) towards the household’s heating bill, which allows recipients to allocate money within their budget for other needs. Eligible households can also receive a LIHEAP Crisis grant up to $500 to restore or maintain heating in their homes if they are without heat or in danger of being without heat. LIHEAP Crisis also provides assistance in getting broken or malfunctioning heating systems repaired or replaced.

 

Pennsylvania has a long LIHEAP winter enrollment period, stretching half the year, even extending the state’s shut-off moratorium past its deadline into April, do you have any recent data on how many families your office in partnership with the CAAs were able to help through this past long, cold winter?

Pennsylvania operates the LIHEAP program as a seasonal heating program during the winter months, from November through March. During the 2015-2016 season, we received 590,812 applications for LIHEAP benefits.  During the 2016-2017 season, we received 617,641 applications.

 

Pennsylvania presently doesn’t operate a summer cooling program, meaning all of last year’s over $200 million in LIHEAP funding was invested in the winter season.  What kind of a percentage of qualified population did that funding help stay warm?

We serve approximately 23% of the 1.5 million eligible households in Pennsylvania. Approximately 71% of applications for a LIHEAP Cash grant are approved and approximately 86% of applications for a LIHEAP Crisis grant are approved. We do not operate a summer program at this time, so all funding is allocated for the winter program. 

 

As much as inner-city populations like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh depend on LIHEAP to help keep the heat on, across the state’s countryside, the program provides equal shelter.  What kinds of specific help does this crucial lifeline provide to Pennsylvania’s rural communities?

Rural communities are often dependent on deliverable fuels, such as fuel oil, propane or wood, for their heating needs. Deliverable fuels tend to be more costly and are associated with larger upfront costs, as well as the added burden of having minimum delivery amounts. LIHEAP is beneficial in helping households afford at least a minimum delivery. Without LIHEAP, some households may not have heat if they cannot afford fuel which is why the LIHEAP grant is so important.

 

Veterans have become the newest and arguably the fastest-growing demographic to join the LIHEAP graph in the past decade, have you seen any kind of spike in your state’s case?

We ask for veteran status on the LIHEAP application, but a response is not required in order to process the application. However, low income households that contain veterans face the same hardships when confronted with the added energy burden of heating their homes. Any cut to LIHEAP funding would affect the ability of the program to serve all of these households within the community.

 

Finally, looking ahead, what would the impact be on your office if LIHEAP funding was cut from the current levels or outright eliminated as proposed in the White House’s FY2018 budget as it affects your ability to service the maximum number of Granite State residents heading into next winter?

The LIHEAP program in Pennsylvania does not receive any funding outside of the Federal allocation it receives. If a cut in funding occurred, Pennsylvania would be unable to continue to serve its residents at the current rate. For the 2016-2017 LIHEAP season, we raised the minimum benefit amount and added supplemental payments to households with elderly members, disabled members, and with children age 5 and younger. A cut in LIHEAP funding would have a detrimental effect on Pennsylvania’s most vulnerable populations. Elimination of Federal funding would eliminate LIHEAP in Pennsylvania.