Writing and Reporting by Jake Brown
With the heat beating down around the country from coast-to-coast, the summer kept PLENTY of people in movie theatres and anywhere else they could stay cool as the temperatures burned on and on through September and into early October. With local governments, community action agencies and related charities and non-profits shifting into overdrive to keep pace with crisis assistance throughout August and September, the pressure was felt nationwide.
Human Services Director Natalie Jackson of the Community Action Agency of Western Connecticut reasoned that “while some larger Community Action Agencies start a bit earlier, we have historically opened the application process mid-September, which works well for our community.” The Newton Bee, in the same cover story, highlighted that vulnerable residents had an additional helping hand to count on with “Operation Fuel, Connecticut’s only year-round, statewide nonprofit emergency energy assistance organization,” adding the eye-opening statistic that “there is a $450 million home energy affordability gap for…more than 320,000 Connecticut households cannot afford to pay, not the entire amount that they owe. On average, each household with incomes at or below 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level, owes $1,404 more than they can afford to pay in annual energy bills.” 1
Still, defying the myth opponents try to push that LIHEAP is a rubber stamp program, Regional CAAWC Executive Director Michelle James, speaking to the Newtown Bee, added “we need to verify income. That means we need pay stubs for the four weeks prior to date of their application…Regarding assets, we need to see all the most recent bank statement within 30 days of application. That means all bank accounts — checking, savings, CDs, stocks, bonds. The only thing we don’t look at is 401k information. We need to get a full picture of their energy burden.” 2
Throughout the Northeast, states traditionally slammed by winter storms starting now were moving along with business as usual even with the prolonged heat, with Delmarva Power – servicing Maryland and Delaware – opening their application season and the possibility of receiving upward of $1000 in energy bill grant assistance. Regional President of Delmarva Power, Gary Stockbridge, proudly declared that in spite of the warped weather cycle this year, “we are committed to providing our customers with affordable energy service. Each year, LIHEAP provides a crucial resource for customers that need financial support, and our teams work extremely hard, hand in hand with local community organizations, to make sure customers are aware of this vital funding. It is important for customers to apply as early as possible to ensure they receive the assistance they need.” 3
New Jersey residents were relieved to hear that more families would be eligible for Energy Assistance after the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (NJBPU) recently raised the income eligibility limit to the Universal Service Fund (USF) program, Daily Energy Insider revealed. Reflecting the exponential demand for assistance with their 10% bump from 175 to 185% of the Federal Poverty level, 5700 new households across New Jersey were estimated to be eligible. NJBPU President Joseph L. Fiordaliso, preparing in advance of Fall like his colleagues around the country, explained that “several months ago I asked our staff to look into how the Universal Service Fund could better help residents keep their gas and electric on through financial hardship. Updating the income threshold to make more residents eligible for support is an important step in furthering our mission of ensuring affordable utility service for all customers in the Garden State.” 4
For all the money that states were racing to raise to meet skyrocketing demand in the moment, looking down the line, Democratic Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders (I-VT) released a Green New Deal plan that proposes to raise the LIHEAP program by $25 Billion annually. Briebart News additionally reported that “the program will be expanded to provide 10 percent of program costs for maintenance of new efficient heating and cooling systems and technical assistance for the installation and use of new furnaces, heat pumps, boilers, and other upgrades for the duration of the 10-year transition.” 5