December 2018: LIHEAP Helps California

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Central Coast Energy Keeps the Heat On For Thousands This Winter

Writing and Reporting by Jake Brown

December is a charitable time of year for non-profits like Central Coast Energy Services, who both give and receive – specifically appreciation for the vital energy assistance they provide to thousands of families across middle California, with Liz Moreno, Director of Marketing & Outreach, describing that thanks by the “bins and bins of mail” her office receives “each year, including a ton of Thank You cards, letters, emails, etc., and it’s not just seasonal, it’s all the time, throughout the year, and we have a bulletin board in one of our warehouses that has all the letters and notes posted.  So people definitely come back and let you know they’ve benefited from the help, and that it’s life-changing for some people.”


Serving the community for almost 40 years, Director Moreno’s nonprofit branched off in 2004 as a stand-alone 501C3, and has kept a constant current churning out energy assistance in overdrive due to higher and higher demand each year “as soon as that cold weather kicks in for us, our intake department goes into overdrive, and they start working 6 days a week processing all the applications to keep up with all the demand.  The shut-off notices especially start coming in really heavily, so that’s definitely when our program is the most impacted and when we spend a ton of funding.” 


Unique to California’s traditional reputation for warm weather year round, Central Coast Energy experiences a more conventional seasonal shift mid-fall wherein “the cold weather begins around November for us and is now stretching into May of the following year.  Before the colder season started in October and we’d start seeing all the applications coming in at the top of that month, but now that the seasons seem to be kind of pushing later in the year, we’re seeing the applications delayed, so there’s a weather factor for us.” 


Equally uncommon to C.C.E.’s service demographic is the fact that “its driven by the Agriculture industry, so there’s a lot of people essentially working outside in the fields – lettuce fields and strawberry fields – and so when there’s good weather, there’s a good harvest and good crops, but when it gets cold, that’s when all these big agriculture companies start laying everybody off, and some of them go to other states like Arizona, but for the most part, when people start getting laid off because of the cold weather, that’s when people start applying for the program.”  Working in cooperation with other charitable organizations around the region, the Director details a coordinated drive where “all of our community-based organization partners start seeing an impact as well of people seeking services – from food banks to other social services, and they refer all those people to us.  So their referrals on top of all the other people who know about us, we get really impacted during that time.”


Alongside their traditional role helping households keep the electricity on in their own local community, Director Moreno and her non-profit’s passion has driven them to go even further in advocating for those they serve and by extension, the LIHEAP program in general, founding the LIHEAP HELPS CALIFORNIA Campaign in 2017, a reaction the Director explains to “the President’s budget proposal, and just putting a face to LIHEAP because it’s a relatively unknown program in general. Everybody knows the food banks, everybody knows animal rescue, but people aren’t familiar with LIHEAP and what it is and how critical it is to low and fixed-income households.  So the campaign is how we got started, and we want to put people out there to share their story and the impact that LIHEAP has on them and their households and families and really ‘What would that do?’ without that benefit.  Some people say, ‘Its only $350,’ but for somebody who’s living on a small amount of money a month to pay their rent and get all their medical costs and just for food to survive, that money goes along way.  That’s especially true for people in Emergency situations that we help with more than the max benefit, so when the President’s budget for both 2018 and 2019 said LIHEAP was a ‘low impact program and unable to demonstrate strong performance outcomes,’ that’s why I developed our Community Impact Information Sheet (see below), because it shows exactly how LIHEAP has an impact in our communities.”

 Back home, the program’s recipients were picking up the advocacy mantle in their own brave way, stepping out from behind the statistics to put a real human face on vital assistance that several describe in sobering candor in terms of just how badly off they’d be during the winter without it:


Gina Cassidy: “The reason I am here today is to get assistance for HEAP, one of the reasons is my right ankle, I fell down 26 stairs and am unable to work right now, I’m currently disabled, and am having a hard time, and this program is helping me get through that rough time.  I have four children, and without this program, I don’t know where I’d be.”

Sandra McDonald: “I live in San Bernardino, California.  I’d like to start out saying that we are blessed to have some kind of utility assistance with this program, and if you cut it, then there’s going to be a lot of people, and a lot more elderly people, who are doing without.  If you would come and see these people out here, you would be appalled, and if you take this away from us, you’re going to have a lot of people destitute and don’t know what to do, and children also.”


Pamela (last name omitted): “I’ve been an educator since 1982.  I’ll have money one week, and the next week make very little money.  So this program has been very helpful for me, and keeping my utilities on, I fully appreciate it.  Please do not get rid of this program.  For someone over the age of 50 like myself and unemployed, we need this program.”

Sue (last name omitted): “I just got assistance from this program, which is so important, for me and my family.  I have a disabled vet at home on a fixed income, and if this program wasn’t here, how would I cook hot meals, or how would we take hot showers or cool ourselves on the hot summer days Southern California is known for.  Would my children do their homework in the dark? We need this program, thanks.”


With Weatherization playing an equally-important role in providing energy efficiency in both the short and done long term, Director Moreno prides herself on just how personal her organization treats every home they’re helping make warmer, finding that rewarding spirit is infectious among her staff, confirming that “with the people who go to weather homes, all of the work is done in-house.  So it’s our employees, all of whom go through extensive training and are certified with all the different licenses they have to have, so all of the work we do is in-house, men and women, who go out and do the assessments, the weatherization work, the follow-up inspections, and the fact that when we’re out conducting outreach, we can speak to the quality of the work being done in these homes because we know the people going out there and doing the installations.  We provide weatherization and energy assistance to people whether they’re home-owners or renters, apartments, mobile homes, and if you have your utilities included in your rent or are sub-metered— everybody and anybody that we can, we help as much as possible.”


For the Director personally, she identifies the greatest gratification she takes from her job day in and out after “being with our agency for close to 10 years” as the knowledge that “at the end of the day, we truly are helping people.  If people call in saying they need help, we’re going to help them now, not months later.  If they need a new furnace, we’re going to install a whole furnace installation, that’s $6000 in itself, if you need a water heater, we’re going to help you, we’re the real deal!  Our program really does help people, and I think with all the funding ups and downs you go through working at a non-profit or a contract that’s slated for elimination every year, the thing that really makes it worth it is serving people and helping to improve their lives, making their homes more healthy and safe and more energy efficient.  So to be able to help them afford more essential needs is just super-important.” 


Outside of Central Coast Energy’s local advocacy on behalf of LIHEAP, Director Moreno helped found the LIHEAP HELPS CALIFORNIA campaign, partnering with national organizations like NEUAC and others to take Capitol Hill by storm on LIHEAP ACTION DAY in March of 2018, recalling that “we went to Washington D.C. and visited both Republican and Democrat offices were accepting and saw the value of LIHEAP once you give them the numbers and the impact that LIHEAP has in their own communities where their servicing area is, they appreciate it.  I think the thing that’s missing is the information, which is not out there, so when you don’t know about it, I think it’s easy to dismiss the program.  But once all these elected official and their staff saw the impact the program has on their communities, that’s when you get the ‘A-Ha’ moment where then it’s not as easy to dismiss it or cross it off from the budget.”


Necessary for the simple, real fact that year in and out, LIHEAP proves itself time and again to be a life-saving program, Director Moreno heartily agrees, reasoning in closing that “Oh my Gosh, absolutely I think it’s a very critical program!  The fact that it’s been slated for elimination the last two years is kind of scary, the way people are thinking, that it’s a program people can do without.  If I may, I can give you the example of an applicant we had a few years ago where the day before we were all going to shut down for Thanksgiving break, I was contacted through a social worker in Santa Cruz county, and she said ‘I have this woman with a young son, 11 years old, with 7 different machines keeping him alive,’ and she wasn’t able to pay her electric bill so PG&E shut her off!  So her son’s life was literally in danger, and we went into action, contacted PG&E, partnered with several other community-based organizations, and were able to restore her service and keep her son alive essentially.  That’s not an exaggeration, so our program really does impact people.  That’s a really strong case, but it happens more than we would like to think, and so that’s why our work is so critical in the community.”



Central Coast Energy Services website:

LIHEAP Helps California Campaign website:

Campaign Videos/Testimonials:

The LIHEAP Difference:

LIHEAP in Action at CVOC:

Advocate Spotlight: LIHEAP Saves California

When energy advocates in California learned that LIHEAP was being threatened at the national level, they learned there was no time left to waste.


“It was then that we realized that we were in a new political environment, and it was up to individuals like us to begin sharing the very real, very important impact of LIHEAP on citizens in California and beyond,” shared Dennis Osmer, executive director of Central Coast Energy Services, a not-for-profit organization that provides a variety of energy services, including consumer energy education and advocacy and utility assistance.


Alongside his team members, Dennis created a new initiative, LIHEAP Helps California, to bring light to the issue of LIHEAP in his local community. The goal of LIHEAP Helps California was to share what normally goes quietly appreciated at Central Coast Energy Services: the outpouring of thank yous and gratitude from California residents who receive LIHEAP funds to keep their homes safe and powered during times of economic crisis.


“We’ve always kept our heads down and gotten the work done to help families in our communities,” Osmer said. “But we work every day knowing that there is no replacement for LIHEAP in our local area. When we stepped back and considered what elimination of the program might mean for people, the impact was tremendous.”


Osmer recognizes that LIHEAP currently serves only six percent of the eligible population in California, but he also notes that for those families, LIHEAP is a significant contribution to their lives. Throughout the year, LIHEAP funds are administered to families who cannot keep their utility bills up to date due to financial stresses. Central Coast Energy Services, in turn, receives notes, letters, thank you cards, and recommendations from the consumers it serves. This gratitude comes in without any solicitation from Central Coast Energy Services—a testament to the impact the LIHEAP funds are having on the families it serves.

LIHEAP Recipients share their story.

LIHEAP Recipients share their story.


“That gratitude is where we started,” Osmer said. “We simply started gathering the stories and sharing them on social media. We took the stories that we already had, and then we reached out to other consumers who were willing to tell their own story, too.”


The result is LIHEAP Helps California: an ongoing effort to capture and share real California families and their experience with LIHEAP funding. The campaign features a website, and active Twitter and Facebook accounts, where dozens of personal stories are shared. 


Gathering such personal stories, where individuals and families must share their need for assistance on a public front, can be a challenge for most organizations. The team at Central Coast Energy Services had a special advantage to reaching out to beneficiaries. Central Coast Energy Services has an ongoing business relationship with nearly all of their region’s energy assistance agencies. Central Coast Energy Services developed a management software that makes it easy to track LIHEAP funds, and most of the local agencies use that software to manage their LIHEAP program distributions. Due to these ongoing working relationships, Central Coast Energy Services was able to easily reach out to the agencies and partner with them to get access to families who would be willing to speak out on behalf of LIHEAP and its influence on their lives.


“We knew that sharing stories was going to be more effective than any major political lobbying would be,” Dennis noted, sharing that advocating on behalf of the program is part of their job as an organization.


“This year was a real wake up call for us,” he continued. “We realized that hope is not enough. Hope that politicians and leaders would continue to fund LIHEAP or increase the funding was not going to cut it this year. We needed—and still need—to get active.”


Currently, Osmer and his team are working on setting up meetings between Californians and their representatives in Washington, DC. Sparking conversation between policymakers and the individuals from their home communities is important—whether that conversation happens in California or back in DC, where the votes and decisions are made.

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“We need to make this program a priority,” Osmer said. “We live in a community where the loss of LIHEAP would make a significant, noticeable impact, and we don’t want to see that happen.”


In addition to setting up meetings, LIHEAP Helps California also provides several resources to encourage people to connect with Congress and their representatives and get involved on social media.


For more information about LIHEAP Helps California, visit, and follow along as the campaign shares the real stories of families willing to speak up and speak out for LIHEAP.