Four States Expand LIHEAP during Polar Vortex: Utility Shutoffs Suspended

February 1, 2019 – Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Minnesota have all expanded their LIHEAP program funding in result of the polar vortex that has brought severe temperatures to those regions. DTE Energy in Michigan also announced that they will suspend all utility shutoffs during the polar vortex. Many states have a disconnect policy that protects customers from shutoffs during extreme weather. Visit the LIHEAP Clearinghouse Disconnect Policy page to learn the details of your states disconnect policies.

Illinois Illinois raised the income cap for LIHEAP eligibility by almost 30% with an additional $10 million to cover the expansion, until the end of March. The proposal would make it easier for households to apply for assistance, requiring that a household make no more than $44,000 annually as compared to making no more than $34,000 annually.

Illinois’s disconnect policy runs from December 1 through March 31, and includes protections during temperatures that are below 32 degrees and over 95 degrees.

Indiana Indiana released an additional $5 million in LIHEAP funding, raising the maximum monthly payment to eligible households by about 38 percent. Indiana’s disconnect protection runs from December 1 through March 15, and is not temperature-based.

WisconsinWisconsin distributed an additional $1.5 million in LIHEAP funding to counties where propane is the primary source of fuel. The disconnect policy for Wisconsin starts on November 1 and ends on April 15.

LIHEAP assistance includes crisis assistance during the event that a furnace goes out. If it is considered life-threatening, assistance may be provided within 18 hours.

Minnesota Minnesota’s additional LIHEAP funding expanded benefits and nearly doubled LIHEAP payments to households who heat primarily with propane and heating oil. The disconnect policy for Minnesota runs from October 15 through April 15 and includes a “summer disconnection protection.”

Other states like Kansas and Alabama have declared “propane emergencies.” In result of the propane emergencies, the National Energy Assistance Director’s Association (NEADA) has called on the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to release half a billion dollars in 2014 LIHEAP money that the government has held in reserve. NEADA says propane users are facing a 19 percent increase in heating costs.

There are 14 million homes in the United States who are propane-reliant and 23 million homes who depend on LIHEAP to keep their homes safely heated. Timothy Smeeding, who researches poverty at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, said, “If your furnace goes out and it’s well below zero, it’s an extreme emergency.”

DTE Energy Initiates Moratorium Protections for Customers

Some moratoriums are temperature-based, and others are date-based and “status based.” However, sometimes freezing temperatures may occur outside these standard expectations, such as the polar vortex this year, and other measures might be required to ensure the safety of the customers.

DTE is taking this precaution and has announced that they are temporarily suspending all shutoffs during the polar vortex, or “inclement weather.” DTE’s specifications for a moratorium protection include that the weather be below 15 degrees and/or wind chill below zero for two or more consecutive days.

To see a chart of how many states choose date-based or temperature-based and status-based moratoriums, check out the LIHEAP Clearinghouse’s publication, “Crisis Following the Lifting of a Winter Moratorium.” To see the details of each state’s disconnection policies, visit the LIHEAP Clearinghouse’s Disconnect Policies page.

Tips for Safely Heating Your Home

Here are some safe heating tips, provided by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission:

• Instead of turning up the heat, add an extra blanket or sweater, if your health permits.
• Use a programmable thermostat and set it to lower the temperature at night or whenever the house is unoccupied.
• Keep doors and windows closed as much as possible. This includes overhead doors on attached garages.
• Seal off unused rooms. Close the floor or wall registers and return air vents, and keep the doors closed in those areas.
• Open south-facing window curtains, drapes and blinds during the day. Close coverings at night to keep the heat in.
• Weather strip and caulk windows.

Should you lose power, consider the following to help stay safe until power is restored:

• Use flashlights or battery-operated lanterns for emergency lighting. Do not use candles or other potential fire hazards.
• If you use a generator, do NOT run it inside a home or garage. Also, connect the equipment you want to power directly to the outlets on the generator, not your home’s electrical system, which could shock or injure utility crews working on nearby power lines. Additional generator tips are available here.
• Turn off lights and electrical appliances (except for the refrigerator and freezer). When power comes back on, it may come back with momentary “surges” or “spikes” that can damage equipment.
• After you turn the lights off, turn one lamp on so you will know when power is restored. Wait at least 15 minutes after power is restored before turning on other appliances.
• Check on elderly neighbors and those with special needs who might need additional assistance.

To learn more about LIHEAP in your state, visit the LIHEAP Clearinghouse website.

Source: media reports