The Newest LIHEAP Advocates: Program Recipients


Writing and reporting by Jake Brown


In spite of their category as “the public” who receive LIHEAP support by the millions around the country year in and out, most prefer to stay anonymous and let their community and political representatives speak publicly on their behalf, as this prized program has come under attack in the past budget year, increasingly, brave faces from every section of the spectrum have been coming forward in a new PR effort that’s as grass-roots as you can get in communicating the essential day-in-and-out role this program plays in so many of our neighbors’ lives.


Just this past month, Louisville resident Mary Smith stepped forward to speak up for energy assistance retirees like herself that number in the tens of thousands per state around the nation that are living as she is “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.”  A seemingly small amount of money in the broader debate over BILLIONS, every dollar counts for the bottom line for another Mary out of Louisville, who stated unequivocally when asked on the record that this past winter, “if I didn't have that I wouldn't be able to heat my house,” while fellow Kentucky resident Donna Stidham –doubled down on the reality that “for me and my family, it is about the only way we have of heating our home, you know there aren't any jobs and if it wasn't for them we would be in the dark or out in the cold.”


In neighboring Illinois, the impossible choice often advertised in the fight for LIHEAP funding in Washington was put in clear terms by Linda Hamlin, who put the blunt point this past winter on the edge she was living on every day of having to make a “choice of either pay the whole lump sum from that month, plus then I wouldn't have been able to pay rent…I can’t wait, hopefully we get it quicker than what we normally do because I really need it for January’s bill.”


Many official advocates like those who represent constituents like Linda on Capitol Hill earned accolades both in the form of framed recognition and by introduction as next door, Missouri Senior Senator Roy Blunt accepted the LIHEAP ACTION DAY Award as presented by NEUAC, and echoed by St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson in a Post Dispatch editorial where she praised the Senator as an “ardent supporter of LIHEAP… Senator Blunt demonstrates his acute awareness of the necessity of this program by continuously supporting LIHEAP year-after-year… To have an advocate like Senator Blunt fighting for this program and these individuals is something our city, and communities across Missouri and the nation, should not take for granted. With the current administration’s twice proposing to eliminate LIHEAP, Senator Blunt’s advocacy is essential.”  Jefferson City, Missouri resident David Robinson reverberated across the state the necessity of such ardent support with his candid portrait of a life of struggle day in and out where, as a disabled LIHEAP recipient, “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.”


Chicago resident Norma Jones, highlighted in a report by journalist reporter Sasha Gomez – found refuge in her local CAA, the Community and Economic Development Association of Cook County (CEDA), who helped her take advantage of the cutting edge advancements in energy efficiency by moving into an apartment with “in-unit energy efficiency upgrades through the weatherization program in 2016.”  As a consequence, “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.” 


Meanwhile, in Springfield, resident Cassie Castleman volunteered that “my family would not be doing very well if we did not have that program.  There are a lot of families out there that really need LIHEAP…You get bills that you need to pay each month, and when you don’t have a whole lot of income, you have to pick and choose.  I’m very thankful for LIHEAP. There are a lot of people who are too proud to say they need help. There’s nothing to be embarrassed about, we all need help once in a while.”


Up in Minnesota, resident Keith Wilson reminded readers why so many working families only reach out for LIHEAP aid in their most desperate hours, making the point that “if we didn’t need it, I would let other people use it,” while longtime LIHEAP supporter Iowa U.S. Senior Senator Chuck Grassley took the airwaves to speak up for constituents like Mr. Wilson, reminding fellow Cornhuskers that neighbors in every community around the state “look to programs like LIHEAP to help them keep warm this winter…Adequate funding for LIHEAP is essential to provide meaningful aid to families struggling to pay their monthly bills. It helps those on fixed incomes to stay warm at home in the winter months and pay for other necessities like prescription medicine and groceries.” 


The trend began back East in 2017 when fear over the White House’s budget ambitions began to spread among longtime LIHEAP-dependant cold weather states like Vermont, where CBS News spoke to a 55-year-old disabled painting contractor named Todd Alexander from Milton, Vermont who was motivated to speak out in an effort to “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.”  His neighbor in Belmont, New Hampshire, 60-year-old Ann Chabot spoke out for Seniors like herself just entering her golden years on a fixed income that “it's a really needed program," she said. "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.”