Winter 2019 News Wrap-Up

Writing and Reporting by Jake Brown

With winter weather kicking into high gear around every part of the U.S. that traditionally counts on LIHEAP assistance, the local soldiers on the front lines of the battle to keep the millions of families warm this winter were working overtime to keep up with demand as temperatures plummeted, thermostats went up, and electric bills rose right along with them!  Brave recipients like Dungeness Valley residents Michelle and John Bonifazio spoke up to share their version of that nightmare with the Peninsula Daily News, who reported that Washington state couple “last year, Michelle and John faced the first of several rough patches…the heating bill soared. The couple applied for and received help, just in time, from Washington state’s federally funded Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP.”


Admitting that “we were seriously behind,” the couple – raising a family that included a daughter and son all living under one roof – fell into “a very down, dark time in our life” before LIHEAP helped brighten the house and holidays up, help Michelle Bonifazio added “was humbling” to receive.  Across the country in Columbia, Missouri, Local television channel ACB 17 reported similar conditions both on the thermostat and corresponding heating costs as “frigid temperatures have chilled mid-Missouri early this year, leaving many people with high utility bills with months of cold weather remaining.” 


Stepping up to help turn up the heat and down the pressure on households struggling to make it through winter, a mother of four who preferred to remain anonymous admitted that "there's nothing I can do, I'd probably be sitting in the dark with my babies with candles, that's it. That's all I can do.”  Central Missouri Community Action’s energy assistance manager, Jennifer Donaldson, remarked on the family’s circumstance in context of the larger demand that “it is very eye opening how much poverty there is in our community and how many people go without either gas or electricity until our funding is available.”


Nearby in Illinois, the St. Louis Post Dispatch shared the holiday miracle that an extra $600,000 in LIHEAP funds would be released to Madison County, allowing thousands of additional families to receive energy assistance right when they needed it most, confirmed by Community Development Administrator Trudy Bodenbach, who mused that “we are thrilled that DCEO chose our agency to receive this additional funding.  DCEO recognized both the need here in Madison County, as well as our staff’s ability to utilize the funding in the most effective and efficient manner — to serve the greatest possible number of residents.”


Back in New England, in light of an alarming flurry of reports from local papers like the Berkshire Eagle’s that “state officials expect 20 percent more applicants for heating aid this year,” the paper published a powerful Op-Ed endorsing the proactive move by “members of the Berkshires legislative delegation” that “have pledged to do their best to convince Beacon Hill to furnish a supplemental budget allotment from the state (given)… The Bay State's allocation this year from the federal government totals $136.5 million, which is $11.2 million less than last year — despite the fact that oil, gas and electricity prices are rising. The commonwealth's reduction was more than any other state,” while cautioning that urgent action as required given “allocations have already begun to run out.”

            Next door, Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania dispatched Deb Davis, the utility’s manager of Universal Services, to re-assure the public that in light of the life-threatening weather, help was available for those in need, such that, “at Columbia Gas, we want our customers to be safe and warm this winter, which is why we want our customers to know about the availability of LIHEAP assistance.  As a natural gas utility, we are committed to providing our most vulnerable customers with resources like LIHEAP to help with their heating bills. If you or someone you know may be struggling to pay their heating bills, please apply for a LIHEAP grant as soon as possible.”














LIHEAP Assists Iowans in the aftermath of Winter Storm Polly


Writing and Reporting by Jake Brown


Winter storm Polly visited Iowa this winter, and her effects are still lingering. News coverage reported continued snow and ice hitting the state, and larger impacts to the region as "snow is flying across parts of Kansas into Nebraska, the Dakotas, Iowa, and southwestern Minnesota."


Winter storms are a normal feature of winters in the Upper Midwest, and programs like LIHEAP have been a critical component of health and safety for decades. Back in 2002, longtime Iowa U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley touted the support of energy assistance for Iowans: “People will 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.” 


Nearly 20 years later, those comments appear to be frozen in truth. In an interview with, the State of Iowa's LIHEAP/Energy Assistance Bureau Chief Christine Taylor underscored the constant importance of raising awareness about LIHEAP. Taylor noted that "only 26% of the eligible households in Iowa apply for assistance each year. The other 74% is at risk of being disconnected or choosing between heating their home or purchasing much needed medication or food for their families.”


Local NBC affiliate Channel 13 revealed that through the winter of 2018 thus far, “the funding translates into keeping almost 200,000 Iowans warm each winter.” Director Taylor added more details, noting that Iowa has had 73,264 households apply to the program and 67,420 were approved.

"During the same timeframe in FY17, we had 71,676 households apply with 67,096 approved," Director Taylor added, noting an increase in this winter's application numbers. This increase in need comes on the heels of an announcement from the White House through its proposed elimination of LIHEAP in the FY2019 budget. Program elimination means funding decreases for those most assisted by the program, including households across multiple demographics from single mothers and their children to the elderly and Military members returning home from active duty.


Director Taylor explained that “because Iowa is mainly rural, cuts to the program would affect a large amount of our eligible population. Veterans, of course, live everywhere in Iowa and would be equally impacted.  Iowa most certainl agrees that LIHEAP is a life-saving program.”


Partnerships between other longtime allies have been helpful in both outreach and additional funding avenues. Iowa radio station 105.7 KOKZ shared reminders to residents about upcoming deadlines for the program, and collaborations among key collaborators in the region, including MidAmerican Energy, Alliant, and the Iowa Utilities Board, also garnered public interest. In particular, Upper Des Moines Opportunity, a prominent community action agency, accepted a generous donation of $76,070.16 from Alliant Energy’s Hometown Care Fund. The funds were intended to supplement state LIHEAP funds. Alliant's total contribution to the area at large was over $3 million, raised via contributions from individual residents, 'shareowners', employees, and retirees. Jamey M. Whitney, Executive Director of the Upper Des Moines Opportunity, expressed his gratitude to Alliant for the "generous donations to assist low-income individuals and families with their utility costs.  It is by generosity such as this that we can truly make a difference in the lives of our customers.” 


With a second White House budget in two years proposing the elimination of this vital program altogether, Director Taylor painted a vivid picture of the potential fallout for the families who depend year in and out on the helping hand of energy assistance. Taylor noted that “the impact of cuts to the LIHEAP would be immense. ithout LIHEAP assistance, over 80,000 individuals each year would be at risk of not having life-saving heat during winter months. With every dollar that funding decreases, fewer income-eligible households would be assisted.”