June 2018: LIHEAP News Wrap Up

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Writing and Reporting by Jake Brown

Taking a different coverage angle than the usual straight-ahead reporting on how summer heat affects people’s home energy bills, CNN put the spotlight on the impact of how uncertain Federal policy on LIHEAP affects vulnerable citizens during their commutes to and from their second and third jobs. For the working poor, these commutes are made that much harder by the fact that, while they can receive assistance with a home utility bill, “currently, there is no federal program to assist with gasoline prices…It's important to keep in mind -- especially those of us for whom 46 cents is no big deal -- that there are two Americas: One for those who can absorb price increases with few changes to their lifestyles and another who have to choose which bills to pay each month. About one out of four Americans live in this second version of the country. These Americans are nurse's aides, service workers, store clerks, and single parents working two jobs just to make ends meet. They are also grandparents who rely on Social Security to pay their bills and disabled Americans and veterans unable to return to work.  There is no perfect solution to the problem of rising gas bills. But poor families should not be expected to cover the additional cost. The government must step in, as needed, to assist.” 

 

Buried deep in the bureaucracy of Federal law passed on energy assistance in general by Congress, CNN uncovered the fact that there is actually an answer in the form of “a model Congress could follow to create such a program. The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) assists poor families in paying their home heating and cooling bills, notably also driven by the increase cost of oil. LIHEAP provides formula grants to states to provide direct assistance to about six million poor families.  A similar program providing aid to poor families during times of high gas prices would be welcome relief. And to streamline the process, the program could provide funding directly to families that are already signed up for other key social service programs like LIHEAP, Supplemental Assistance Nutrition Program (SNAP or more commonly referred to as Food Stamps), or the Women, Infant and Children (WIC) program.”

 

From Washington, one progressive step beyond the significant helping hand LIHEAP was already giving came when the Federal Administration for Children and Families announced via the LIHEAP Performance Management website plans in June.  Designed to ensure cutting edge management of the program’s administration on the front-lines, a training webinar was hosted to assist grantees with Performance Management, specifically “accessing and Using LIHEAP Performance Management Data. The LIHEAP Performance Measures Data collected and reported by state grantees furnish a comprehensive set of information about each state's LIHEAP Program. The LIHEAP Performance Management Website (PMW), which gives both grantees and the public direct access to these data, has recently been updated to include significant new resources. This Webinar will give help grantees to understand how to use the Performance Management Website and will highlight the new resources that make the data and information more accessible. The Webinar will last approximately 1 hour and will be recorded to be made available on YouTube.”

 

Taking similar strides on the local level throughout America to help connect constituents with as many opportunities for help with summer energy bills as possible, back East, Mayor Jimmy Davis of the city of Bayonne, New Jersey hit the airwaves to announce that the Bayonne Economic Opportunity Foundation (BEOF) was offering “energy assistance programs for people in Hudson County who are struggling to pay their bills.   This assistance is made possible by funding from the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs and the federal government.   These costs include electric, natural gas, oil, and other deliverable fuels…LIHEAP grants are also available for medically necessary cooling costs.”

 

Down South in Louisville, Kentucky’s especially-vulnerable elderly community was being paid extra attention by Senior Citizen centers like KINDRED, who argued the focus was necessary because “more older adults are choosing to age at home than ever before, so the government has developed several programs to help them stay warm with heat in the winter and cool with air conditioning in the summer,” highlighting LIHEAP as key among them along with options including Weatherization, Ratepayer-Funded Programs, State and Local Funds, and Private Fuel Funds.

 

Over in Wilkesboro, NC, North Carolina’s 3WC Hometown Radio 100.1 FM and 1240 AM announced the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services was looking for public input on the “proposed Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program block grant plan, which outlines how approximately $103 million in federal LIHEAP funds will be spent in North Carolina.  LIHEAP provides heating, crisis and weatherization assistance.  Last year, more than 181,000 North Carolina households including many in Wilkes were assisted using funds from this grant.”

 

Deeper down into the Bayou,  New Orleans, ABC affiliate KACT Channel 3 broadcast an on-location report from a LIHEAP enrollment center at Abbeville Library, interviewing Diedra Lewis, Coordinator, St Mary & Vermillion Community Action Services, who explained that with temperatures approaching 100 on a daily basis throughout the month of June, it proved an effective motivator for people needing help to come out and apply for it, such that “on such days as today, we come out into the community and take a vast amount of applications in one day.”

 

Feeling the heat throughout the Southwest, Nevada announced a Public Hearing Notice and Agenda, in light of their projection that “FY 2019 federal funding is anticipated to come in lower than FY 2018 per the President’s Proposed Budget.”  Aiming to cover every call that came in for assistance, the state was eager in “input from interested persons on the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and Nevada Fund for Energy Assistance and Conservation 2019 State Plans.” 

 

Nearby in Oklahoma, Native Americans were taking advantage of LIHEAP and supplemental support from the local level after Linda Arnold, Osage Nation Program Specialist, outlined the variety of avenues being taken to accommodate “different types of assistance: energy aid on electric bills, the repair or replacement of a Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) unit for eligible homeowners, and as funding allows, home weatherization materials or a 110 Air Conditioning window unit and box fan,” adding that suffering under the same baking sun as the rest of the nation this summer, “it is important that we ensure our constituents are safe, not overheated, and able to afford their energy costs during extreme temperatures. By providing energy assistance, we may alleviate that financial burden.”

 

            Up in Washington State, the Blue Mountain Action Council in Washington State announced they were tapping into “FEMA dollars…for those who need help with their gas, water or electric past due bills,” while out off the coast on the Island of Maui, the sun was just as unforgiving, announcing that LIHEAP assistance was available in the form of energy credits, and emergency crisis intervention, with Maui Electric noting energy credits were available only during the month of June, adding that “in addition, residential customers who receive a LIHEAP credit will be auto-enrolled in our Tier Waiver Provision program for 12 months. This program applies the lowest tiered rate to the non-fuel energy charge on a customer’s electric bill.”

 

Sources:

 

1.      https://www.cnn.com/2018/06/15/opinions/gas-prices-hit-poor-hardest-wolfe/index.html

2.      http://www.katc.com/story/38471915/liheap-utility-assistance-program-taking-applications-in-vermilion-parish

3.      https://www.kindredhealthcare.com/resources/blog-kindred-spirit/2018/06/11/5-money-saving-energy-assistance-programs-to-help-older-adults

4.      https://bmacww.org/33-programs-services/energy-assistance

5.      https://dwss.nv.gov/uploadedFiles/dwssnvgov/content/Home/Features/Public%20Hearing%20June%2015%202018%20PROPOSED%20REGULATIONS%20Final.pdf

6.      http://www.hometownchristianradio.com/home/2018/6/27/nc-seeking-public-comment-on-liheap.html

7.      https://www.mauielectric.com/billing-and-payment/energy-assist-programs/liheap

8.      https://liheappmdev.ncat.org/node/3

9.      http://www.bayonnenj.org/Articles/Read.aspx?id=185

10.   https://www.osagenation-nsn.gov/news-events/news/osage-nation-financial-department-accepting-applications-assistance

LIHEAP NEWS ALERT: Senate Labor-HHS Subcommittee Proposes $50M Increase for LIHEAP

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Today, the Senate Labor-HHS Subcommittee approved LIHEAP FY2019 funding at $3.7B, calling for an increase of $50M over FY2018 levels. This follows the House Labor-HHS Subcommittee call for FY2019 funding at levels consistent with FY2018 at $3.64B.

The Campaign for Home Energy Assistance thanks Chairman Roy Blunt and Ranking Member Patty Murray for seeing the vital necessity of funding the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

An excerpt of the announcement from the Senate Appropriations Committee is pasted below and the full release is available online here:

 

FY2019 Labor, HHS, & Education Appropriations Bill Gains Subcommittee Approval

Panel Supports Increased Funding for NIH Research, Opioid Abuse Fight, Pell Grants

 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (Labor-HHS) Appropriations Subcommittee today approved a FY2019 funding bill that continues investments in critical medical research, opioid abuse prevention and treatment, and education.

 

The FY2019 Labor-HHS Appropriations bill contains $179.3 billion, an increase of $2.2 billion above the FY2018 level, in base discretionary funding for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education and Related Agencies.

 

In addition, the bill includes $711 million pursuant to the 21st Century Cures Act.  Full committee consideration of the bill is scheduled for Thursday.

 

“This bill prioritizes resources for programs that benefit our economy and impact the lives of every American,” said U.S. Senator Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), chairman of the Senate Labor-HHS Appropriations Subcommittee. “I’m proud we were able to provide the fourth consecutive funding increase for the National Institutes of Health, which will pave the way for new medical breakthroughs and lower health care costs over the long term. The bill increases funding for opioid treatment and prevention programs, giving states the flexibility to fund programs that are the most effective for their unique needs. The bill provides funding for education programs to support students at every point in their academic career, from helping hardworking families afford high-quality early childcare, to investing in STEM education, to making college more affordable. Finally, this measure helps ensure we have the workforce we need to compete in a 21st Century global economy.

 

“Working together in a bipartisan way, our subcommittee has concentrated funding on programs that address some of the biggest challenges facing our nation. I urge my colleagues to support this measure when it comes before the full committee,” he said.

 

 

Loyal LIHEAP Champions Series: Native American Tribes (Part 1 of 2)

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In this first of two articles, LIHEAP.org offers a special report surrounding Native American tribes and their support of LIHEAP as a national program that's vital for many tribes. The following interview was written and reported by Jake Brown with the Poarch Band of Creek Indians of Alabama. 


“We have witnessed the unfortunate deaths of those people in our communities who pass away primarily due to the excessive heat we experience,” Martha Gookin, Tribal Member Services Division Director of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians of Alabama confirms at the top of our conversation about the punishing summer already beating down on her nation.  With the Alabama Weather Blog reporting “another hot and humid day, with more sun than clouds” in mid-June, as Director Gookin’s office phones stay lit up enrolling more and more families looking for a break from the heat and the sky-high cooling bills it brings, she highlights LIHEAP as an especially “invaluable service, particularly for our elders.  It truly does provide life-saving resources for our Tribal Members.”

 

Revealing that the aforementioned 90-degree days were actually on the low-end of the life-threatening temperatures her tribe experiences throughout the summer, Director Gookin explains that “we live in an area where summer temperatures can rise well into the 100 (+) degree range and winters can see bitter colds even below zero degrees.  The LIHEAP program provides critical financial assistance to our Tribal Members whose income is limited thus making payments for cooling a difficult challenge, and enables these Members to ensure they have cooling.  We also provide Crisis LIHEAP that enables low income Tribal Members to have electrical services to remain in their homes when they have situations of loss or reduction of their already limited income through no fault of their own, or when major medical events occur in their lives.  Having heating and cooling in our environment is a critical life-saving service.”

 

Looking back over the thaw of an equally-as-expensive to survive winter where heating bills piled up month after month, the Director pointed to the reality that “this winter was a particularly long and cold season.  LIHEAP afforded us the ability to ensure our Tribal Members were able have heating in their homes.  Again, the impact of this program is greatest amongst our Tribal elders who would not be able to survive the cold of the winters here without heating in their homes.  We see the most volume of applications during the winter season, although the variation is not significant.  We generally have similar numbers between winter and summer.  We do utilize the Crisis LIHEAP program throughout both seasons as well.”

 

Counting on the helping hand of LIHEAP year in and out like so many communities throughout the country rural, urban and tribal alike, Director Gookin seeks like all her colleagues to make every dollar stretch to help not only the most families possible, but in the largest number of ways as well, ranging from bill assistance across a variety of energy sources to outreach within the community ahead of enrollment seasons begin to educate them on all the resources available to her tribal members.  Starting with the advantage that “we are a small tribe,” her office has been able to give more specific attention to each family applying for LIHEAP, resulting in “over the past 5 years, our utilizing LIHEAP to serve 300 + families annually.  The financial benefit averages around $300.00 per household served.  Our services are primarily used for energy bills, although we do have a few homes that utilize natural gas services. We do assist with electrical connection fees for those who are transitioning from a homeless situation into a home of their own, which may include rental homes.  Our outreach is primarily limited to our Tribal Members and their households.  We provide information via a monthly newsletter and on various social media sites.  We also host numerous community meetings and community events throughout the year in our efforts to provide outreach to our Tribal Members and their households.  We often see our energy providers extend their services to those in need for the specific purpose of saving lives.”

 

With the Tribe’s continual economic development innovations included the recent acquisition of Media Fusion, a company reported to have over $12 million in revenue. Using funds from acquisitions and operations of various casinos and resort properties, the Poarch Creek Indians have been able to reinvest in the energy security of its tribal members with what Director Gookin outlines as “a Tribal Assistance Program that can be utilized to pay for utilities if the need is determined to meet the program guidelines.  The Tribal Assistance Program has the same requirements including loss or reduction of income through no fault of your own, or major medical.  This is a one-time use per year program and provides a maximum of $500.00 that must be utilized to pay bills or can provide food/gas vouchers as determined by the verified needs of the Tribal Member household.”

 

Beyond the tribe’s collective investment in ensuring every family in need of energy assistance throughout the year receives it, the personality spirit of generosity among its individual members is alive and thriving as well, with Director Gookin proudly volunteering in closing that “In my personal energy bill, I pay additional donations just to help cover the cost of energy for those in need in our area.”

 

Sources:

1.) https://www.alabamawx.com/?p=164910

2.) https://globenewswire.com/news-release/2018/05/08/1498660/0/en/The-Poarch-Band-of-Creek-Indians-Acquires-Media-Fusion.html

3.) https://www.al.com/business/index.ssf/2018/03/alabamas_poarch_creek_indians.htm

 

Cover image: http://www.nb3foundation.org/poarch-band-of-creek-indians/

7 Must-See Things at the 2018 Annual NEUAC Conference

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This month, hundreds of energy assistance advocates and leaders will gather in Phoenix for the 2018 NEUAC Conference. With a theme of “We Rise Together,” this year’s conference offers attendees new education tracks, keynote speakers, and special features on top of the conference’s core events and sessions. Katrina Metzler, NEUAC Executive Director, is planning to make this year’s conference one of the best ever.

 

“We have a lot to be excited about this year,” Metzler said. “We’ve learned so much from previous conferences and have been able to pack in a lot of really amazing content and events into this year’s lineup.”

 

In a quick sit-down with the Campaign for Home Energy Assistance, Metzler shared a lineup of seven must-experience additions to the 2018 NEUAC Conference:

 

  • Walk In My Shoes Poverty Simulation: Offered as a no-cost special offering, this pre-conference session is an eye-opening experience. Participants go through an exercise that simulates the experience of a family member of a person in poverty. Every 30 minutes explores a new week and new challenges, like dealing with unexpected financial crises, payday loan situations, and various levels of personal crisis. Certified trainers execute the simulation, and participants are coached through their reactions and experiences to walk away with greater compassion and understanding for the challenges of poverty.

 

  • Regional Solution Building: At the conclusion of the conference, NEUAC is again gathering an attendee favorite: the regional solution building networking and discussion session. Metzler notes that some of the most consistent feedback from previous conferences was the great experience of meeting fellow energy assistance leaders from the same region. To support networking and connection, this year’s conference will also feature a regional breakfast social at the outset of the conference on Tuesday morning. This early opportunity to meet and engage with others can then be enhanced at the conclusion of the conference, with plenty of opportunity to connect in between.

 

  • Fiesta de la Union: It wouldn’t be a NEUAC conference without a colorful reception! This year’s reception adds a local flair to the conference’s theme of “We Rise Together” through the Fiesta de la Union reception. During the reception, attendees have the chance to chat and mingle in a fun, inviting atmosphere. “The reception is really one way that we’re showing the frontline staff members who support LIHEAP and energy assistance across the country how grateful we are for the help they provide to clients every day,” said Metzler, who is looking forward to the event’s 8-piece band, photo booth, and Latin American food selection.

 

  • Hot Topic Education Tracks: Last year’s conference had one particularly much-discussed session: structural racism. The controversial topic was a welcome indication to Metzler and other conference planners that there is a continued need to address all topics—even the ones that stir up dissent—in an effort to address all perspectives and potential solutions for energy assistance. In addition, this year’s annual conference will feature a new track called Emerging Issues and Water Affordability. This new track is a result of last year’s special Water Affordability Summit, which was a post-conference special event. During the Summit, Metzler learned of the critical need to discuss how water and energy affordability connect and to involve more participants into the discussion.

 

  • Speakers and Keynotes: The NEUAC Conference would not be complete without the compelling lineup of keynote and special speakers. Of personal interest to Metzler is Dr. Ruby Payne, a well-known speaker on the topic of poverty. “I first heart Dr. Payne speak when I was just 22 and back home in Ohio. Everyone now and again we all come across people who speak to our heart, and that was Dr. Payne for me. She talks about the differences between social classes and how are values and formed and influenced by our wealth—or lack thereof.” Dr. Payne’s presentation during the plenary session, “Bridges Out of Poverty,” will help attendees understand how to speak beyond their own social class to connect with individuals in other life situations. Leading the opening session, Lori Jacobwith will welcome attendees to the conference with her presentation, “Storytelling: Sharing Your Mission Powerfully to Cause ACTION,” to ignite energy in attendees as they work on their mission of change and progress in the field of energy assistance.

 

Be sure to check out these must-see presentations, speakers, events, and more at the 2018 Annual NEUAC Conference! There’s even more to experience on site during the three-day event. If you haven’t signed up for the conference yet, there’s still time. Head over to www.neuac.org to get the details and register today!