December 2017: LIHEAP National News Wrap Up

December News Blog LIHEAP.png

2018 Kicks Off with Winter Bomb; LIHEAP Responds

Writing and Reporting by Jake Brown

Headlines call it the ‘”WINTER BOMB:” The Washington Post took front-page note of the “unusual winter storm" and Newsweek reported that the winter storm "classified as a ‘bomb cyclone’ —slammed nearly the entire East Coast...engulfing many Mid-Atlantic and New England states in whiteout conditions and coating multiple southern states with rare snowfall." 

With over 70 million people facing its wrath, the storm’s biggest threat was to millions of families in distressed urban and rural communities around the country who are already exposed during the winter time to harsh conditions due to poverty.  CNN shared the sad news that “at least 16 people have died this week due to severe weather...Six deaths were reported in Wisconsin, four in Texas, three in North Carolina, and one each in Michigan, Missouri and North Dakota.”

With the record-cold storm fronts slamming the East Coast throughout the month of December and heading into the New Year, Vermont increased its efforts to make sure every Vermonter that needed help keeping their home warm had a chance at receiving assistance. The statehouse appropriated funds to subsidize Federal LIHEAP dollars, providing approximately 20,000 families with an increased $879 in heating assistance (up from $831 in 2016.) Looking after the interests of one of the program’s most vulnerable demographics, the elderly, Al Gobeille, Secretary of the agency of Human Services, underscored just how “critical…this assistance is to their health and well-being,” adding that “this program helps low-income Vermonters, especially seniors, people with disabilities and families with children, to stay warm during the winter months…This is good news for Vermonters who need the (LIHEAP) program to help meet their heating needs that we’re able to increase the benefit and the purchasing power.”

Up in the most northern tip of the U.S., Maine Senior Senator Susan Collins brought Christmas early with the announcement leading into the historic storms that almost $35,000,000 would be coming to her constituents’ rescue, making the point that “access to affordable home energy during the cold winter months is a matter of health and safety for many low-income households, children, and seniors in Maine.  The LIHEAP program remains an indispensable lifeline that prevent Mainers from having to make the impossible choice between paying for heat and paying for food or medicine.”  

In neighboring Pennsylvania, Theresa Miller, acting Human Services Secretary for the State, doubled down on the role the LIHEAP program played this winter in the health and welfare of seniors throughout the state, declaring that “the Wolf Administration is really proud to deliver these critical funds that help eligible low income individuals and families pay their heating bills.  As the cold winter months approach, the assistance provided by the program allows these Pennsylvanians the opportunity to stay warm and safe.  I encourage everyone who has a loved one or a neighbor that could benefit from this program to urge them to apply.”

Hit just as hard deep down in the South as far as Alabama, Gov. Kay Ivey responded with the announcement through the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs that "ADECA’s Energy Division is making funds available as expedient as possible so qualified families can take advantage of this program as we enter the cold season under a winter weather advisory,” ADECA Director Kenneth Boswell reported, with the Governor adding personally that “these LIHEAP funds ensure that low-income residents, including the elderly, children and those with disabilities, do not have to endure a winter without heat.”

Slamming the Midwest with equal force and fury, ABC News 17 in the state capitol of Jefferson City, Missouri, shared the story of one LIHEAP beneficiary who was grateful for the holiday help. The story focused on David Robinson, a LIHEAP recipient who, the report highlighted, was in such desperate straits to keep the heat on that he pawned his electric guitar, explaining his need for the help in the simplest of realities: “I don’t have a mom or dad, I don’t have anybody that I can rely on. I try to be self-sufficient as I possibly can, but I’m very grateful and blessed to have the service they provide.”  Reporter Sasha Gomez, interviewing Jennifer Donaldson of the Central Community Action Agency in the same televised feature, noted that “there are just not enough funds to meet the needs of the entire community, and its frustrating, but it good to know that we live in a community that has multiple resources and we can refer people other places.” 

Next door in Illinois, the state’s most vulnerable families were already feeling the benefits of the Future Energy Jobs Act (FEJA), passed the previous winter. The National Resources Energy Council reported that under the new law, “the state’s two largest electric utilities, ComEd and Ameren Illinois, will allocate sizable energy efficiency budgets to programs that serve low-income Illinois residents thanks to FEJA. ComEd will nearly double their minimum requirement—spending around $48 million each year (over the next four years) on low-income efficiency programs. These dollars will help to support multi-family and single-family retrofits, energy efficiency kits, efficient lighting distribution in communities, supportive housing programs, affordable new construction programs, and more.”

Highlighting the story of inner city Chicago resident Norma Jones, a beneficiary of progressive new efforts to align her home with long-term energy efficiency, starting with her being a “member of United Winthrop Tower Cooperative, an affordable multifamily property. The building worked with the Community and Economic Development Association of Cook County (CEDA) to complete whole building and in-unit energy efficiency upgrades through the weatherization program in 2016. Norma’s energy bills used to be hundreds of dollars every month, but now due to LIHEAP and her building’s weatherization work her bills are less than $30 each month. She’s able to put her savings towards her medical expenses, and feels grateful to live in a safe, comfortable home.”

Residents in Iowa received an extra hand with additional energy assistance thanks to the Iowa Propane Education and Research Council, which launched a $6000 Regulator Rebate program to produce a “regulator replacement whereby with the removal of regulators identified as a potential safety threat.”

In Washington, Puget Sound Energy prepared its residents in snow-heavy parts of the state by issuing tips for keeping their homes warmer while saving on heating costs, including “adjusting your thermostat. By lowering your thermostat 10–15°F for eight hours when you’re asleep you can save 10% on your heating; Cover your windows (closing your window coverings at night will help reduce heat loss and prevent cold air from coming in. Open them during the day, to let the warm sunlight in); and finally to take care of your fireplace.”

Finally, The National Law Review announced more additional energy assistance coming in this winter thanks to a lawsuit settlement by Barclays Bank PLC in what was reported as a scheme to “manipulate Western energy markets,” according to the NLV.  The $105 million approved under the agreement includes a special earmark targeted to energy assistance for “any unused funds from escrow, along with the remaining $15 million disgorgement payment, will go to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (“LIHEAP”) of Arizona, California, Oregon, and Washington.”