Spotlight Exclusives

Apprehension over Possible LIHEAP Funding Cuts Rises as the Mercury Falls

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As temperatures drop around the country, many low-income families will turn to programs like the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) to help keep their homes warm. So with Congress debating whether to reduce funding for LIHEAP, states are scrambling to prepare for a cold winter.


In the past, LIHEAP and other energy assistance programs have had bipartisan support. For example, both Democratic Boston Mayor Tom Menino and Republican Maine Senator Susan Collins have contributed commentaries to Spotlight on the importance of heating assistance to low-income people.


Now funding for LIHEAP may be in peril. The New York Times recently reported that “Under Mr. Obama۪s proposed budget, the overall heating aid program would get about $2.6 billion, down from $4.7 billion in 2010-11. The House and the Senate are considering smaller but still significant cuts, with the final amount yet to be determined.”  


While future funding levels are unclear, states are forecasting a reduction in LIHEAP funds, and some have already run out of money since distribution started on November 1. In Atlanta, higher demands from specific vulnerable populations who can request assistance before others have led to the depletion of funds well before they were to be made available to the general public. This year, Atlanta reported that twice as many seniors and people with disabilities requested assistance compared to last year. Farther north, Boston projects running out of funds by mid-December.


In response to a potential lack of federal dollars, other states are looking for alternatives. Michigan, for example, announced a plan at the end of November to direct money from other federal funds into an emergency relief fund to finance LIHEAP. 


LIHEAP is not the only resource addressing heating costs this winter. Weatherization services, funded by federal stimulus dollars, also work to help low-income residents reduce utility costs. Families living at 200 percent of the poverty limit or below can apply to have workers repair energy-draining problems in their residence. In many states, including Ohio, this service could help consumers reduce energy consumption and save on utility bills. The Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC) reports that it completed work on almost 1,000 homes in Central Ohio through October of this year.


Private citizens are also concerned about heating costs for low-income people during the coming season. As The New York Times article mentioned, author Stephen King, a native of Maine, has decided to help. King has promoted a fundraising effort through a local radio station he owns and pledged to match up to $70,000 to provide heating for Mainers.


For the most up-to-date reporting on state heating assistance, use Spotlight۪s In the News feature or State Pages to track national and local coverage.

Posted by Mike

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