LIHEAP PHONE AND ENROLLMENT LINES COME TO LIFE AROUND COUNTRY
Writing and Reporting by Jake Brown
With parts of the South ravaged by the repeated battering of hurricanes throughout the Gulf Coast states in September and October, the rush to restore electric grids put extra pressure on thousands of economically vulnerable homes. Millions of homes lost power heading into fall enrollment season, and LIHEAP wound up contributing in the recovery efforts. The Center for American Progress reported in October that "Puerto Rico receives federal funding under LIHEAP to provide cooling, crisis, and weatherization assistance. Congress should provide Puerto Rico with LIHEAP emergency contingency funding to meet additional utility and weatherization assistance needs due to Maria."
That trend followed the Eastern coastline up to Massachusetts, where Rep. Bill Keating warned that "LIHEAP can mean the difference between life and death for many people across the country, especially households with seniors or children. As we quickly approach the colder weather months, it is imperative that we release the maximum amount of funds available for this program so we not only alleviate some of the burden of high energy costs for our families, but also provide critical assistance to countless Americans suffering from the effects of the recent hurricanes.”
Back in the Midwest, up in Iowa, where corn fields were already starting to see frost turn to freeze, local Washington, IA, radio station KCII delivered news to listening rural residents that "some people may already be thinking about the cost of upcoming winter heating bills." The station reported that General Assistance Director Sue Rich noted that services were already in high demand for the coming winter season.
Indeed, a chorus of similar calls were pouring in around the country as cold fronts began rolling in to cities like Louisville, where Kentucky's Brandon O'Neal of the Louisville Metro Department of Community Services revealed an innovative system to help increase the speed at which applicants are serviced, explaining that "this year, we have implemented the appointment system. This is the second year that we are utilizing it and no more long lines. We want to help everyone, that's why we want to get the word out," adding proudly that "last year, we helped over 25,000 families."
Illustrating just how much those families his and hundreds of other CAAs around the state need the assistance of LIHEAP, Maurice Beckley, a local resident bravely spoke out publicly in support of the program and the difference it makes in his life personally like so many retirees living on a fixed income, candidly stating that LIHEAP "was a blessing in the sky that the program was there for people like me. You don't want to wait until last minute," underscoring the program is essential to his keeping the heat on as he points to last winter where "I had one for like $263 like three months in a row."
Pennsylvania-based PPL Electric Utilities took advantage of the Halloween holiday to get the word out to customers to sign up those families needing assistance this winter. Local paper, the Standard Speaker, shared the news the unique approach that of hosting a free, family-friendly event that combined energy savings with fun activities. "The PPL Energy Savings Day will offer community assistance services, energy education, entertainment and several giveaways," and the event was held on conjunction with the YWCA's Trick or Treat Trail, a Halloween event for children in the community between the ages of 2 and 8. Attractions include demonstrations on home weatherization, health screenings, a petting zoo, a bicycle rodeo teaching bicycle safety to children, children’s entertainment, food vendors and more.
Maine's U.S. Senator Angus King used his media spotlight to shine a light on the continued importance year in and out that LIHEAP makes to his constituents, offering his matter-of-fact assessment to local television station WBAI Channel 5 that "it means sometimes the difference between heat and medicine for example. It's a tragic choice that people should not be put to. LIHEAP is of enormous importance to the northern tier of the United States and has been important to Maine for as long as I can remember. The bad news is the President zeroed it out in the budget. The good news is the House and Senate Appropriations Committee have put it back in at last year's level."