February 14, 2014 — With increased propane prices squeezing low-income households, LIHEAP directors across the country have searched for ways to meet increased need. In recent weeks, some LIHEAPs have received supplemental funds from public and private entities. Other programs see extra assistance on the horizon.
The Iowa Legislature is currently considering a bill that would transfer $2 million from the state's general fund to LIHEAP. Earlier this week, the Iowa Senate soundly approved the legislation, Senate File 2110. Lawmakers have said the funds could help up to 85,000 additional low-income households.
"Along with propane problems, there are broken furnaces, higher energy bills and something we can't control - a really cold winter which is throwing people into a financial dilemma and dangerous safety issues," said the bill's sponsor, state Sen. Liz Mathis.
Now that SF 2110 has cleared the Senate, the House will consider it. The bill includes language that the transfer of funds would happen if and when the bill is signed into law.
While the Iowa Legislature considers supplemental funding, a county in New York has contributed $750,000 to a program that augments LIHEAP in its area. Dutchess County is partnering with the local United Way to create "Dutchess County HEAP Plus."
The HEAP Plus program will assist vulnerable families and seniors that can't pay their heating bills due to a reduction in HEAP (New York's LIHEAP) benefits. This year, HEAP reduced benefit payments from three to two for eligible households.
Dutchess County HEAP Plus will allow:
- Households eligible for HEAP's two benefit payments to apply for an additional emergency payment.
- Households with incomes between 60 percent and 80 percent of state median income to apply for a one-time payment. This allows more households to be eligible for some assistance, as HEAP's income eligibility is capped at the 60 percent level.
- Households with incomes between 60 percent and 80 percent of median income to apply for funds to help with furnace repair or replacement.
"This new program helps to fill the gap created due to cutbacks by the federal government to HEAP and expands eligibility to those who may be struggling to pay their heating bill but do not meet the federal income requirements," said Robert Allers, Dutchess County Department of Community and Family Services commissioner.
Tribal organizations have also stepped up to help other tribes. The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community (SMSC) of Minnesota provided funds to three tribes to help them deal with the propane crisis. It gave $500,000 to the Standing Rock Sioux in the Dakotas; $300,000 to South Dakota's Yankton Sioux Tribe; and $70,000 to Nebraska's Santee Sioux Tribe.
"The thought of people struggling during such a harsh winter is unbearable," SMSC Chairman Charlie Vig said in a statement. "We are happy to provide these grants, which will help ensure these tribes' members are warm and cared for."
A private vendor is also helping LIHEAPs in its region. Based in Mississippi, Blossman Propane Gas announced this week it had contributed a total of $200,000 to four state LIHEAPs. Blossman gave $50,000 a piece to the programs in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, and North Carolina.
"We are hearing about broken heaters, job cut backs, and paychecks that don't cover heating costs that may be running unusually high at this time of year," said Stuart Weidie, President and CEO of Blossman. "Through these donations to LIHEAP, we hope to alleviate potential life-threatening energy-related emergencies or needed repairs during this prolonged cold snap."
Sources: New reports, Iowa Legislature, LIHEAP Clearinghouse