Loyal LIHEAP Champions Series: Native American Tribes (Part 2 of 3)

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In this second of three articles in our summer series, LIHEAP.org offers a special report surrounding Native American tribes and their support of LIHEAP as a national program that's vital for many tribes. The following interview was written and reported by Jake Brown with the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community.

 Arizona summers are legendary for their 100-115 degree temperature peaks. It is often one of the hottest regions in the country between June and August, and summers often see severe heat waves--encouraging at-risk residents to remain indoors and take precaution.


To economically stressed Native American tribal reservations around the state--including the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community--the assistance of LIHEAP to combat such life-threatening heat waves is essential year in and out. Susan E. Nayatewa, Prevention & Intervention Services Manager noted that “the need for energy assistance increases March-October, as the summers are hotter and the utility bills are higher during this period.  LIHEAP has helped SRPMIC Community members with additional assistance with electricity, which is helpful during the summer months when the usage and bills are higher.”


Unique for its more urban location as “a sovereign tribe located 15 miles northeast of Phoenix...the Salt River Piima-Maricopa Indian Community (SRPMIC) is one of 10 Arizona tribes that have chosen to be designated as its own First Things First region,” the Ombudsman-Citizen’s Aide explains. The 85-square mile Salt River Reservation in Maricopa County, borders Scottsdale, Tempe, Mesa, and Fountain Hills, and is home to the Pima (“Akimel O’Odham,” River People) and the Maricopa (“Xalychidom Pipaash,” People who live toward the water)” Native American tribes. 


Because of their unique 6-month summer season, calls for cooling assistance begin earlier than they traditionally do around the rest of the United States. Phone lines heat up as hot as the weather, as “approximately 25% of SRPMIC utilizes LIHEAP," according to Manager Nayatewa. "In the past 4 years, the funding was exhausted by July and there were some applicants that did not receive assistance. Most of the LIHEAP grant is utilized directly for utility assistance, mainly for cooling costs, and secondarily for weatherization (purchase of fans, portable a/c units, and filters).” 


On the upside, there is a very strong network of community, civic, non-profit and advocate organizations that help to get the word out every year about the start of summer enrollment season. Manager Nayatewa confirmed that “outreach is provided at District meetings, departments requesting assistance (Senior Services, Social Services, mobile home parks, and health fairs).  Information is listed in the local Au’Authm newspaper, community announcements through the Tribal website, flyers at health fairs, and presentations to the various departments.   Utility companies that are utilized include Salt River Project, as this is the provider for the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community.  The Department of Health and Human Services does provide utility assistance, however, there are limitations to the amount of times assisted and the amount allowed for payment.”


Like so many of her colleagues on the front lines of the administration of LIHEAP around the country, Manager Nayatewa agrees with the most powerful tagline the longtime energy assistance program has rallied among its supporters, that without question, “LIHEAP is a life-saver,” offering a life-line time and again where few others exist to the most economically-distressed households in her community to those “many applicants that have met the maximum for Tribal utility assistance and those applicants are able to be assisted through LIHEAP each year.”  There’s little doubt the LIHEAP will continue providing relief to The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community from the punishing summer seasons for years to come…