March + April 2018: LIHEAP News Wrap Up

March April 2018 News Wrap Up.png

Writing and Reporting by Jake Brown

Snow Delays the Bloom of Spring--and Reinforces the Need for LIHEAP

Front pages across the nation were freezing readers eyes with the news that record snow falls continued to slam the nation from coast to coast throughout a time during the Spring when flowers are usually starting to bloom. USA Today covered the storm in real time, reporting in mid-April that “a massive storm system is bringing blizzards, tornadoes, freezing rain, high winds, fire danger and heavy snow to much of the nation...”


As far back as early March, local New Orleans television Fox affiliate Channel 8's Henry Allen reported on location from Total Community Action, an agency in the 9th Ward, that “you can see that the line of people who’ve shown up for that assistance is long and it keeps on growing…Hundreds started waiting in line overnight and into the early hours of the morning for assistance.” 


Around the country, alarms sounded locally as a final round of winter crisis energy assistance would become available across the U.S. following a national cold front. Montana Governor Steve Bullock announced early this month that “tribal, state, and local leaders and volunteers have come together over the past several weeks to take care of our fellow Montanans during this brutal winter. We will continue to do everything we can to ensure our neighbors stay safe and keep warm.”  News of the additional $200,000 in heating help inspired Blackfeet Tribal Chairman Harry Barnes to voice his appreciation


“We continue to assess the impact of this year’s winter storms to our citizens, and the need for additional energy assistance is an issue that has come up.  This funding is very timely, and much appreciated.”


Up in frigid Michigan, resources were being marshaled around the state in full flex. Michigan's State Legislature raced to shore up additional funding. The State Senate passed a bill by Sen. Dale Zorn (R-Ida) – alongside co-sponsors Sens. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba; Goeff Hansen, R-Hart; and Mike Nofs, R-Battle Creek – “to extend home weatherization assistance under the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) to 2022.”


Senator Zorn stepped up to speak out on the Senate's aggressive action to help thousands of families around the state, reasoning that “if we can help low-income wage earners weatherize their homes and seal them up for winter, then their energy costs would decrease.  That would help not only the family save money, but may also help the government by getting them off the energy assistance.”


Next door in Wisconsin, the city of Milwaukee announced the kick-off of MARCH METER MADNESS, Alderman Khalif J. Rainey highlighted the $300 one-time energy assistance payment as an opportunity to “help prevent families from getting a disconnection notice when the moratorium ends next month.  Since this benefit ends when the money is used up, I encourage people to take action now.”  


Nearby in Iowa, a wave of concern was spreading after Des Moines radio station KCHA News warned that “tens of thousands of Iowans are at risk of having their utility services disconnected next week when a winter heating moratorium comes to an end,” sharing a conversation with director of the state’s LIHEAP program Christine Taylor amplifying just how crucial a role LIHEAP funding plays in keeping Iowans warm that “we’ve had approximately 73,000 people approved for the program, so once the moratorium is over, all of those people are at risk.  They may be eligible for crisis assistance, which might help them stay connected.”


In the South, Kentucky faced a crisis after they ran out of funding early due to higher demand as a consequence of below-freezing temperatures across the state after 89.3 WFPL reported that “Funds from Louisville’s energy assistance program have been exhausted, forcing residents in need to turn to the community for help. During LIHEAP’s crisis phase, Jan. 8 to March 7, the program spent $2.5 million and gave an average of $225 to 9,000 Louisville households.”  


Communicating just how real the threat to the community was, Louisville resident Mary Smith confirmed that “I am on a fixed income, and I am having a rough time making ends meet.  They were able to help me with $150. I was very grateful, because I was wondering where I was going to come up with the money.”


Kentucky was acting from the state level to combat this shortage in Federal funding. Kentucky Power shared the surprise news that “a recent order from the Kentucky Public Service Commission increased customer contributions to the HEAP program from 15 cents to 30 cents a month. Kentucky Power agreed to match that contribution dollar for dollar with shareholder funds. Together, the program will generate nearly $1 million this year to provide heating and cooling assistance to about 2,500 in the region.” 


Elaborating on the underlying motivation for the utility’s stepping up to help make up the shortfall in funding, Kentucky Power president and chief operating officer Matt Satterwhite spoke to some of the deeper issues driving the desperation of low-income families, arguing in the same time of his company’s additional actions to help that “the real issue facing customers with higher than average bills in the coldest months is the broken heating systems and lack of insulation and weatherization in the homes.  In recognition of this fact, Kentucky Power and the American Electric Power Foundation also recently awarded a $50,000 grant to Christian Appalachian Project provide assistance in basic home repair and weatherization for those in need. Weatherization improvements can dramatically reduce customer energy consumption and bills. Kentucky Power also is looking at other ways to revise the HEAP program offerings to shift focus on these weatherization needs in the region to help more people.”


Back East, the Cape May County Herald let Southern Jersey know that Atlantic City Electric up to $1000 in additional assistance was available, cautioning even amid the good news that “It is essential that our customers submit their application now, before this important money runs out,” while up in Delaware, the Newark Post shared the welcome news locally that Catholic Charities Inc was opening its doors in a similar fashion, collaborating with the city’s major utility provider Delmarva Power, where region president Gary Stockbridge explained that “We are reaching out to customers across our service area through community forums, mailers and advertising to ensure eligible customers apply to get their grant before the deadline.  We’ve had an unusually cold winter and we want to spread the word that there is help available for those struggling to manage their energy bills.”


Vermont’s deputy commissioner of the Vermont Department for Children and Families (DCF) Sean Brown warned similarly that for the 28,000 families who received heating assistance in the winter months of 2018 that “without this resource, it could be very dangerous for those households being able to survive without heat in their homes… No program exists even close to the magnitude that could replace, to my knowledge, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.”


Out in the Southwest, the Las Cruces Sun Times reported on Las Cruces Utilities’ efforts to help local residents battling a prolonged winter and its accompanying heading bills, customer service supervisor Estela Sauceda reflecting on demand and deadlines for assistance noted the urgency of applying now as “more than 125 customers have already signed up for the Budget Plan, which is a very comforting option for LCU customers who are trying to take control of their bills.”  Confirming that feeling of relief, customer E. Brooks put in the frankest terms possible that “during the most critically challenging past nine years, my family has relied on the commitment of LCU and they truly have followed through to assist on a human level. Unforeseen events can dismantle the structure of a family's life and change your entire existence.”