Wyoming 2018 LIHEAP Check In

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LIHEAP Protects Wyoming Veterans & Households in Need

Writing and reporting by Jake Brown

Yellowstone National Park…  The Black Hills…  The Snake River…  Wyoming is known for its beauty and for the millions of tourists who pass through on vacation each year, but recently, Wyoming Public Media profiled one among a less-known local population, Lea Anne Shellberg, who instead of looking forward to the state’s beautiful summer weather, faces the New Year with a different perspective where “spring can be the most difficult time.  Spring is when those power bills from the winter start piling up. A broken back and a recurring battle with skin cancer ended her career as an interior designer... Her modular home’s power bills for the previous two months totaled more than $470. The charges were unexpectedly high and came despite Shellberg and her daughter taking extra care to keep lights off and appliances unplugged. Her budget is fixed and razor-thin and she couldn’t pay the bill.”


“We’re literally going to be sitting in the dark,” Shellberg – sharing a constant fear so many like her live with winter in and out – fell into the classic category of the working poor who spend “nearly 15 percent of her income, more than twice what economists like Roger Colton consider sustainable,” according to WPM, while sharing her sad story of the impossible choices energy customers in her position are forced to make where “she chose to pay a medical bill for her cancer treatment ahead of the $470 she owed her utility, Poudre Valley REA. Her service was about to be shut off, and she was desperate.  She went to their offices where, Shellberg recalled, an employee there paid the first $100 to open up her account.”  Adding of the shame that accompanies such a dire circumstance, Shellberg admitted that “I sat there and cried, because she knew that I didn’t have all the money.”


Director Ilg echoed this story with a number of her own personal stories of helping thousands of residents she’s helped over the years where she hears life-saving story after story where “time and time again, I hear from grateful Wyoming LIHEAP recipients. My office walls are decorated with thank you cards from recipients of both LIEAP and WAP. The impact we have is often life-saving, but don’t take my word for it. Measure our impact by the words of our recipient families: ‘I don’t know if I would have made it through another winter without your help. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.’ Fremont County recipient; ‘How much better living can be! How much more comfortable life can be! (thank you) I believe the stress level in my head has lowered—it is very nice to be warm.’ Rock Springs, WY recipient; ‘…They [WAP crew] came here through LIEAP…what they did for our home to help us become more energy efficient will help us keep a few more coins in our pockets. This really does benefit those of us on set incomes. With costs of medicine we really need the money saved on energy.’ Torrington, WY recipient; ‘My heater was dangerous with CO level of 2,000. I could be dead if not for LIEAP Weatherization showing up….literally saved my life. Can’t say enough thanks for that.’  Thermopolis, WY recipient; ‘Last winter, I had to light my furnace 2-3 times every night to avoid freezing. It was a very long, cold winter. If not for the help you so generously provided, this winter would have been worse, as I don’t believe my furnace would’ve lasted at all. I live pay day to pay day, so buying a new one is out of the question. You will never know how much I appreciate the help you’ve given me. One doesn’t appreciate being warm until you spend 6 months being cold. Thank you so very much.’ Thayne, WY recipient.”


As the range of stories continued, they included everyone from single mothers to Veterans, opening a letter that graciously thanked the LIHEAP program for “the difference you have made for us. My husband is a Vet who was wounded in the war and the cold really makes him suffer with the pain. We can’t begin to thank you enough….’ Upton, WY recipient; ‘Without LIEAP I don’t know what we’d do…either freeze to death or starve to death. We’d have to choose.’ Lander, WY recipient; ‘My home was so cold in the winter we all slept in one room. The curtains would sway on windy days and we stacked multiple blankets in front of our living room door. As a single parent of 3 small children words cannot express how truly grateful we are….My heating and electric bills were more than I could afford and our home was never warm….My children can now sleep in their own beds, thanks to LIEAP and weatherization and because of LIEAP I can afford my heating and electric bills.’ Albany County WY recipient; ‘Before I was approved for LIEAP, I stopped taking my prescription in winter because I could not afford my heat and medicine both. Now I can take my medicine all year and have had less doctor visits and health problems. Feel better too.’ Torrington, WY recipient; ‘You gave us back Christmas.’ Casper, WY recipient.”


With Wyoming being the 10th largest state in the country but its least populated, leading to many of its LIHEAP residents to reside in rural areas across the sprawling mountain ranges, valleys, and lake-painted countryside, in the summertime, weather often never getting got enough to require a summer cooling program, according to state LIEAP/WAP Program Manager Brenda Ilg , but “because of Wyoming’s long, often extreme winters, we concentrate our current LIHEAP resource on providing heating assistance and heat-related crisis intervention assistance during those long and sometimes brutal winter months. Wyoming would love to offer both heating and cooling assistance but there just isn’t enough resource to do both at this time. Wyoming does transfer unobligated LIHEAP funds to the Wyoming Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) and the WAP services are offered year round.”


With weatherization playing an important role for the large number of rural elderly recipients who live in older or mobile homes, along with its essential role in helping inner city communities as well both make their homes heat and cool more efficiently, but equally in forging toward long-term energy efficiency, especially as Director Ilg  explains that “given the probability for severe winter weather in Wyoming, the fact that Wyoming is among the top 5 states with the highest per capita energy consumption, and the current resource limitations, making homes more energy efficient is a crucial piece of Wyoming’s Energy Assistance program. And, I might add that, by weatherizing eligible homes, we not only make them more energy efficient and lower energy costs during cold weather months; we also make them more energy efficient and lower energy costs during the summer months.”


Acting along with Director of the state’s HEAP program, Director Ilg works in a dual role as the program’s Senior Policy & Planning Analyst, sharing of the state’s most current usage data:


Stats to-date for Wyoming’s 2017-2018 LIEAP season (which runs Oct. 1 through May 31):

  • ·Applications received for heating assistance: 10,607

  • Applications received for weatherization assistance: 10,610 (WAP runs year round)

  • Requests for Crisis assistance: 2,284 (Crisis season ends April 15)

  • Requests for assistance with heat loss emergency due to broken heat system: 430 

Stats for previous 2016-2017 Wyoming LIEAP season:

  • Applications received for heating assistance: 11,255

  • Applications received for weatherization assistance:11,199

  • Requests for Crisis assistance: 2,309

  • Requests for assistance with heat loss emergency due to broken heat system: 430 

In light the Wyoming Public Media’s recent front-page profile of Lea Anne Shellberg and LIHEAP recipients like her, the demand for energy assistance’s continued and expanded existence – as evinced by the ever-growing numbers of new applicants Director Ilg has continued to witness first hand, such that “the number of applications received for both LIEAP and WAP has increased since the 2015 season for both the current and last season. The decrease in applications received this season in comparison to last season is due to a milder winter and lower prices for some heating fuels. We anticipate an increase in FFY2019 because some fuel prices are expected to increase and a colder winter is in the forecast. Currently, about 17% of the eligible LIHEAP population in Wyoming is being served. Wyoming’s LIHEAP budget is spent on heating because we are a cold weather state.”


With more and more of her state’s citizens speaking up about their continued need for energy assistance now and heading into the future, whether publicly in the press or privately in letters to her office, the Director affirms that “I have fielded many calls from concerned senior citizens in Wyoming regarding the importance of LIHEAP.  Senior citizens make up about 43% of LIHEAP recipient households in Wyoming, while households with a disabled member make up about 44% of LIHEAP recipient households in Wyoming. A little over 33% of Wyoming LIHEAP recipient households have incomes at or below 75% of the federal poverty level. Wyoming LIEAP is 100% federally funded currently. So, any significant cuts or outright elimination would be devastating to the Wyoming LIEAP program.  Most of Wyoming can be categorized as rural so the impact of any cuts to the LIHEAP budget would have a statewide impact in Wyoming. Again, the biggest impact in Wyoming would be felt in the winter months, not the summer months. Many Wyoming LIEAP recipients are veterans so cuts would also impact our veterans.  Approximately 17% of Wyoming LIHEAP recipient households include a child age 5 and under. For FFY 2016, Wyoming collected energy consumption and cost data on over 5,000 Wyoming LIHEAP recipient households. The average annual income for average recipient households was $15,665 and the average annual income for high energy burden recipient households was $7,079.”


Breaking those numbers down further in terms of the reduction in energy burden these households have seen thanks to the assistance of LIHEAP, Director Ilg begins by pointing out how much higher their bills started out at on average compared to less-stressed economic communities, revealing that “the average annual total residential energy bill for average households was $1,526, and the average annual total residential energy bill for high energy burden households was $1,895. The energy burden (the percentage of household income that goes toward energy costs) for average recipient households before receiving LIEAP was 9.7%, and the energy burden for high energy burden recipient households was 26.8% before receiving LIEAP. The post-LIEAP energy burden for average recipient households was 6.5%, and the post-LIEAP energy burden for high burden recipient households was 16.4%. Wyoming LIEAP has a significant impact in reducing the high energy burdens that our low-income families face during our often-severe winters with life-threatening temperatures that can dip well below 0.  So I absolutely agree that LIHEAP is a life-saving program. I agree because of all of the recipients we serve telling me about all of the varying ways that LIHEAP has been life-saving for them.”


            Lighting up in closing with winter approaching as she her highlights one of her personally favorite stories of the difference she’s seen LIHEAP make in not just keeping the lights or heat on, but making a truly brighter holiday season over all, the Director proudly reflects “back on that card stating, ‘you gave us back Christmas’ every year during the holidays. For so many people, Christmas means a warm and safe house with the lights on so children can do their homework and food can be kept and cooked safely.  As the above testimonies from actual Wyoming recipients demonstrate, LIEAP provides a crucial lifeline to so many across the vast state of Wyoming.”



1. http://www.wyomingpublicmedia.org/post/high-utility-costs-force-hard-decisions-poor#stream/0