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.

LIHEAP Recipients Publicly Defend Threatened Program

AP Photo/Wilson Ring

Writing and Reporting by Jake Brown

The latest foot soldiers in the battle to beat back the White House’s dangerous effort to defund LIHEAP could perhaps be the most powerfully persuasive voices to speak up yet as more and more energy assistance recipients are heroically stepping up to publicly offer real-life testimony about the difference this life-saving program played in their lives this past winter of 2017:

At the top of May, the Associated Press profiled Todd Alexander, a LIHEAP beneficiary, in its coverage of LIHEAP funding surviving any further cuts in FY2017. Alexander, a resident of Milton, Vermont, spoke up to correct a popular political misperception: “I try to get across to these people that this helps low-income people that are working. This isn’t just about people, as they say … doing nothing on welfare, and that’s what really upsets me.”

Michael Deering opened up to the Vermont Digger about the light-saving difference LIHEAP made, telling local community action agency Capstone that “it was so helpful to have this community resource available at a time of need in our family. Just after I had shoulder surgery, we had a difficult decision to make about paying either the electric bill that had become overdue and was about to be disconnected and being able to have fuel for the van to make sure my family got to school and appointments.  Hard times hit everyone, regardless of income and status but hard times don’t last forever and there is help out there for a lot of people.”

Ann Chabot, 60, of Belmont, New Hampshire, bravely stated the cold, hard truth during winter time that “I would be so lost; I wouldn’t know what to do without it. I don’t want to be out on the streets, I don’t want to lose my home, and I certainly don’t want to lose fuel, because we need that. We need all the help we can get… It’s a really needed program.”

In Massachusetts, Daniela Dragu – a woman with disabilities who depends on a LIHEAP-funded program for heating fuel assistance during the winter months through CAA Self Help Inc. – candidly confessed that  “I don’t know what I would have done without (LIHEAP)…I would be lost if the government took this away.”

Illinois local TV station Fox Affiliate Channel 55 spotlighted single mother of two Heather Whitmore, who hammered home that in order to keep hers warm during the winter months, LIHEAP is “very important because without it I would be probably cut off from it right now or within the next week.  I got bills here that are $742 and I don’t know how I am going to come up with that…(LIHEAP is)…helping me get my past balances paid down, so I can move forward in life.”

Down South in central Arkansas, a college student who was able to make progress toward her education and degree in part because of LIHEAP thanked the Central Arkansas Development Council for their help with the Utility Assistance program and the Saline County Single Parent Scholarship Program, noting that as a result, “this last semester has been a crazy one, but I see the light at the end of the tunnel. I am graduating May 13th–Summa Cum Laude–and I have been accepted to the MA Professional and Technical Writing graduate program starting in the Fall. I really appreciate all you and CADC have done for me. I couldn’t have made it without you.”

Meanwhile, in the urban center of Little Rock, Channel 7 News interviewed an anonymous inner-city single mother of two who has relied crucial energy assistance through 7 brutal winters, backs up the common assertion by advocates and recipients that “LIHEAP is actually a life saver, without LIHEAP I wouldn’t be able to survive, me and my family wouldn’t be able to survive, we would be living with someone else… Right now I have a $500 light bill and I’m disabled and that would take almost my whole check and I wouldn’t know how to pay my mortgage, or anything else, or how to feed my kids.”

For the latest LIHEAP news and policy updates, be sure to stay in touch with the Campaign right here on our blog and via Twitter.

Header image: AP Photo/Wilson Ring

April 2017 LIHEAP News Wrap Up

Fear of Losing LIHEAP Persists

Writing and Reporting by Jake Brown

  • Across the country, Native American tribes were publicly registering their fear over the prospect of losing the vital LIHEAP assistance that helped thousands of households across their nations, with Sioux member Eva Iyotte of South Dakota went public with her concern that ” If that program is cut, I don’t know who’s going to help us out,” before humanizing the issue with the brutal honesty that “we might be poor, but we’re like other people. We want to survive.”

 

  • With more than 43,000 Native American households helped by LIHEAP in 2016, approximately 150 tribal governments took advantage of $33.3 million in program assistance in the past 12-months, particularly in upper Iowa, where Native American tribal nations were taking advantage of available LIHEAP assistance while the last of winter’s frost faded across the plains, as the Mid Sioux Opportunity – who services prominent tribes including the Cherokee, Ida, Lyon, Plymouth, and Sioux Counties– alerted nations that winter assistance would run out at the end of April.

 

  • The Center for American Progress refocused the spotlight on the damaged even the threat of the White House’s proposed budget cuts could cause to 5.7 million LIHEAP-dependent families, including 673,000 upcoming households who might lose cooling assistance, cautioning that “President Trump’s proposal to eliminate the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, will be especially dangerous as more states experience extreme weather.”

 

  • Congressman Peter Welch doubled down on this warning, predicting “immense practical and logistical challenges” for those families affected in his winter-weather state of Vermont, while Steve Geller, Executive Director of the Southeastern Vermont Community Action, told the congressman matter-of-factly at a town hall that “this is going to destroy our lives.”

 

  • In neighboring Connecticut, Governor Malloy – a strong LIHEAP advocate – extended the program’s deadline into the end of April, noting that “Spring may be here, but applications for home heating assistance are still available through May 1 at more than 170 sites throughout the state.”

 

  • New Jersey took care to make sure the aftermath of another frigid winter wasn’t still punishing LIHEAP-dependent families after moratoriums ended and past-due heating bills came due as Elizabethtown Gas announced that a $450 emergency benefit still available for families needing a helping hand.

 

  • In Rhode Island, the spirit of compassion was the same, with the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) setting a record by taking less than 60 seconds to approve a unanimous extension of the moratorium on gas/electric shut-offs. Camilo Viveiros, head of the George Wiley Center, immediately and gratefully praised the move as “an important decision that’s going to help all of the utility customers avoid having their electricity terminated in the next couple of weeks.”

 

  • The Tennessean editorial board sounded off about how the White House budget cuts – specifically those threatening energy assistance – would affect “Nashville’s affordability is one of the keys to our success. As the cost of living increases, we will increasingly lose our competitive edge and much needed services like the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).”

 

  • In Illinois, proactive Community Action Agencies like Fox Valley Older Adult Services hosted Energy Assistance education and enlistment sessions with their elderly clientsnoting thatthrough the generosity of civic organizations, businesses and private donors, FVOAS is able to help seniors continue to live vital and independent lives in their own homes” without worrying about having to make the classically-difficult choice between heating or eating.

Leaders, Communities Vehemently Reject LIHEAP Elimination

LIHEAP Supporters Rally to Share Impact of Program Across the Nation

Writing and Reporting by Jake Brown

Many political pundits – including an alarmed club of conservative commentators – are arguing that the biggest falsehood of the White House’s newly released budget comes with the claim that “LIHEAP is a lower-impact program and is unable to demonstrate strong performance outcomes.”  A statistically proven falsehood with real voices of those affected by the threat of cuts standing ready to dispute the notion that LIHEAP wasn’t performing above and beyond expectations given its demand exceeding available funding b standing ready to dispute the notion that LIHEAP wasn’t performing above and beyond expectations, with legendary Republican Senate Institution John McCain – whose summer heat victims in Arizona have long benefited from LIHEAP’s shade – made the flat-out declaration this week that “it is clear that this budget proposed today cannot pass the Senate.”

As President Donald Trump’s budget was released last week, its bad news for LIHEAP funding was proudly and loudly countered with the good news that Republicans and Democrats alike were saying “NO!” to a program they’ve seen help – and in some cases save the lives of – their most vulnerable constituents.  Each national news outlet in their coverage seemed to appreciate the unique importance LIHEAP plays in the communities they report on day in and out, as was reflected in the extra word-count devoted to underscoring just how significant the threat was to the real lives of real people, beginning with the general warning sirens that began blasting across the media airwaves.