June 2018: LIHEAP News Wrap Up

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Writing and Reporting by Jake Brown

Taking a different coverage angle than the usual straight-ahead reporting on how summer heat affects people’s home energy bills, CNN put the spotlight on the impact of how uncertain Federal policy on LIHEAP affects vulnerable citizens during their commutes to and from their second and third jobs. For the working poor, these commutes are made that much harder by the fact that, while they can receive assistance with a home utility bill, “currently, there is no federal program to assist with gasoline prices…It's important to keep in mind -- especially those of us for whom 46 cents is no big deal -- that there are two Americas: One for those who can absorb price increases with few changes to their lifestyles and another who have to choose which bills to pay each month. About one out of four Americans live in this second version of the country. These Americans are nurse's aides, service workers, store clerks, and single parents working two jobs just to make ends meet. They are also grandparents who rely on Social Security to pay their bills and disabled Americans and veterans unable to return to work.  There is no perfect solution to the problem of rising gas bills. But poor families should not be expected to cover the additional cost. The government must step in, as needed, to assist.” 

 

Buried deep in the bureaucracy of Federal law passed on energy assistance in general by Congress, CNN uncovered the fact that there is actually an answer in the form of “a model Congress could follow to create such a program. The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) assists poor families in paying their home heating and cooling bills, notably also driven by the increase cost of oil. LIHEAP provides formula grants to states to provide direct assistance to about six million poor families.  A similar program providing aid to poor families during times of high gas prices would be welcome relief. And to streamline the process, the program could provide funding directly to families that are already signed up for other key social service programs like LIHEAP, Supplemental Assistance Nutrition Program (SNAP or more commonly referred to as Food Stamps), or the Women, Infant and Children (WIC) program.”

 

From Washington, one progressive step beyond the significant helping hand LIHEAP was already giving came when the Federal Administration for Children and Families announced via the LIHEAP Performance Management website plans in June.  Designed to ensure cutting edge management of the program’s administration on the front-lines, a training webinar was hosted to assist grantees with Performance Management, specifically “accessing and Using LIHEAP Performance Management Data. The LIHEAP Performance Measures Data collected and reported by state grantees furnish a comprehensive set of information about each state's LIHEAP Program. The LIHEAP Performance Management Website (PMW), which gives both grantees and the public direct access to these data, has recently been updated to include significant new resources. This Webinar will give help grantees to understand how to use the Performance Management Website and will highlight the new resources that make the data and information more accessible. The Webinar will last approximately 1 hour and will be recorded to be made available on YouTube.”

 

Taking similar strides on the local level throughout America to help connect constituents with as many opportunities for help with summer energy bills as possible, back East, Mayor Jimmy Davis of the city of Bayonne, New Jersey hit the airwaves to announce that the Bayonne Economic Opportunity Foundation (BEOF) was offering “energy assistance programs for people in Hudson County who are struggling to pay their bills.   This assistance is made possible by funding from the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs and the federal government.   These costs include electric, natural gas, oil, and other deliverable fuels…LIHEAP grants are also available for medically necessary cooling costs.”

 

Down South in Louisville, Kentucky’s especially-vulnerable elderly community was being paid extra attention by Senior Citizen centers like KINDRED, who argued the focus was necessary because “more older adults are choosing to age at home than ever before, so the government has developed several programs to help them stay warm with heat in the winter and cool with air conditioning in the summer,” highlighting LIHEAP as key among them along with options including Weatherization, Ratepayer-Funded Programs, State and Local Funds, and Private Fuel Funds.

 

Over in Wilkesboro, NC, North Carolina’s 3WC Hometown Radio 100.1 FM and 1240 AM announced the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services was looking for public input on the “proposed Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program block grant plan, which outlines how approximately $103 million in federal LIHEAP funds will be spent in North Carolina.  LIHEAP provides heating, crisis and weatherization assistance.  Last year, more than 181,000 North Carolina households including many in Wilkes were assisted using funds from this grant.”

 

Deeper down into the Bayou,  New Orleans, ABC affiliate KACT Channel 3 broadcast an on-location report from a LIHEAP enrollment center at Abbeville Library, interviewing Diedra Lewis, Coordinator, St Mary & Vermillion Community Action Services, who explained that with temperatures approaching 100 on a daily basis throughout the month of June, it proved an effective motivator for people needing help to come out and apply for it, such that “on such days as today, we come out into the community and take a vast amount of applications in one day.”

 

Feeling the heat throughout the Southwest, Nevada announced a Public Hearing Notice and Agenda, in light of their projection that “FY 2019 federal funding is anticipated to come in lower than FY 2018 per the President’s Proposed Budget.”  Aiming to cover every call that came in for assistance, the state was eager in “input from interested persons on the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and Nevada Fund for Energy Assistance and Conservation 2019 State Plans.” 

 

Nearby in Oklahoma, Native Americans were taking advantage of LIHEAP and supplemental support from the local level after Linda Arnold, Osage Nation Program Specialist, outlined the variety of avenues being taken to accommodate “different types of assistance: energy aid on electric bills, the repair or replacement of a Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) unit for eligible homeowners, and as funding allows, home weatherization materials or a 110 Air Conditioning window unit and box fan,” adding that suffering under the same baking sun as the rest of the nation this summer, “it is important that we ensure our constituents are safe, not overheated, and able to afford their energy costs during extreme temperatures. By providing energy assistance, we may alleviate that financial burden.”

 

            Up in Washington State, the Blue Mountain Action Council in Washington State announced they were tapping into “FEMA dollars…for those who need help with their gas, water or electric past due bills,” while out off the coast on the Island of Maui, the sun was just as unforgiving, announcing that LIHEAP assistance was available in the form of energy credits, and emergency crisis intervention, with Maui Electric noting energy credits were available only during the month of June, adding that “in addition, residential customers who receive a LIHEAP credit will be auto-enrolled in our Tier Waiver Provision program for 12 months. This program applies the lowest tiered rate to the non-fuel energy charge on a customer’s electric bill.”

 

Sources:

 

1.      https://www.cnn.com/2018/06/15/opinions/gas-prices-hit-poor-hardest-wolfe/index.html

2.      http://www.katc.com/story/38471915/liheap-utility-assistance-program-taking-applications-in-vermilion-parish

3.      https://www.kindredhealthcare.com/resources/blog-kindred-spirit/2018/06/11/5-money-saving-energy-assistance-programs-to-help-older-adults

4.      https://bmacww.org/33-programs-services/energy-assistance

5.      https://dwss.nv.gov/uploadedFiles/dwssnvgov/content/Home/Features/Public%20Hearing%20June%2015%202018%20PROPOSED%20REGULATIONS%20Final.pdf

6.      http://www.hometownchristianradio.com/home/2018/6/27/nc-seeking-public-comment-on-liheap.html

7.      https://www.mauielectric.com/billing-and-payment/energy-assist-programs/liheap

8.      https://liheappmdev.ncat.org/node/3

9.      http://www.bayonnenj.org/Articles/Read.aspx?id=185

10.   https://www.osagenation-nsn.gov/news-events/news/osage-nation-financial-department-accepting-applications-assistance