Writing and Reporting by Jake Brown
Even amid 100+ degree days, shivers still went down the collective spine of LIHEAP-dependent states waiting on word about FY2018 funding levels as the House of Representatives Appropriations sub-committee mark-up was underway in the Capitol. The fear was real and potent enough among constituents to command press coverage across the country, where headlines like the YORK Dispatch's front page "LIVING IN FEAR OF LOSING LIHEAP" reflected a sense of shared fear in communities like York where residents like 86-year-old Richard Perkins believe "it’s beyond my thinking that anyone could be that cruel."
State Governments were ready to bridge the gap and pick up the slack as they looked out over the possible forecast for the coming winter, as Maine Biddeford Rep. Martin Grohman wrote an editorial reassuring concerned voters that above and beyond the Federal funding, "we dedicated an additional $3 million a year to provide fuel assistance through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) to low income families with children."
The Scranton Times-Tribune, meanwhile, poetically quipped that while "it’s been very hot of late...the coldness coming out of Washington rivals a Northeast Pennsylvania January night." To try and combat the potential loss of funding as far in advance as possible, they spotlighted the efforts of Community Action organizations like the Scranton Lackawanna Human Development Agency, who "through LIHEAP and other related programs was able to develop public-private partnerships that leveraged nearly $500,000 in funding ... to help exhaust our ever-growing list of those who need this service."
The potentially devastating consequences of the threat of lost funding was on display when The Inquirer quoted an inner-city Philadelphia woman who "said she lost her full-time job when she became her sick mother’s primary caregiver. When she couldn’t keep up with her bills, she said, LIHEAP provided her some relief." Commenting personally, this grateful recipient emphasized that as a life-line, "programs like LIHEAP help those who are the working poor. If it were not for programs like LIHEAP … I would probably still be sitting in a house with no electricity.”
Her fear came in response to PA State LIHEAP Director Brian Whorl's warning that "as a result of the President’s proposal and the uncertainty that exists around the federal budget at this time, DHS is estimating that Pennsylvania will receive $153.7 million for the 2018 federal block grant," translating to "a 25 percent reduction in the fiscal 2017 allocation."
Down South in Arkansas, Little Rock LIHEAP recipient Jamie Brown, whom Channel 4 News caught up with at the State Fair, where Brown was applying for assistance at a mobile station. The local NBC affiliate said that dozens of people in Pulaski County applied for utility assistance at the fairgrounds. Brown did not hide how big a difference the program makes in his life: "I was laid off, and I've got a friend living with me who's disabled... I'm really hoping they're going to help us with our electric bill."
In Knoxville, Tennessee, Director of CAC Housing and Energy Services, Jason Estes, focused on another pillar of the plan to help households who are temporarily dependent on energy assistance transition toward independence not merely through financial assistance, but equally education. Dir. Estes argued that education is hugely responsible for enacting change. "It's a life-changing way, you have to really change the way you do things. If you don't, no matter how much you replace things you're still going to have high bills. If you can change your behavior, it's really big."