National Center for Appropriate Technology
Since Congress doubled LIHEAP funding to $5.1 billion for FY 2009,
For FY 2009, under the Continuing Resolution legislation that increased LIHEAP funding, states are allowed to increase their maximum income eligibility levels to the higher of 150 percent of the HHS poverty guidelines or 75 percent of their state’s median income (SMI). The legislation supersedes current law on LIHEAP income eligibility (150 percent poverty/60 percent SMI) for FY 2009 only.
California and Wyoming were the only two states that adopted the higher eligibility level for regular energy assistance, but several states have approved significant increases: Pennsylvania increased its income eligibility from 150 percent of federal poverty guidelines (FPG) to 60 percent of its state median income (SMI), New Jersey from 175 percent FPG to 225 percent, Massachusetts from 200 percent FPG to 60 percent SMI, New Hampshire from 185 percent FPG to 60 percent SMI, Maine from 170 FPG to 200 percent FPG.
New York ’s income maximum for regular heating assistance remains at 60 percent of SMI, but effective January 1, eligibility for crisis assistance in New York will be 75 percent of SMI ($38,512 for a 2-person household; $56,635 for a 4-person household.
Other states such as Illinois , Colorado , Florida , Oregon , Ohio and Texas chose not to expand their income eligibility, noting that the additional funds will allow them to serve more households, which they’d been unable to do under previous funding levels. Texas made no program changes, but expects to triple the number of households receiving LIHEAP from about 50,000 to 150,000. Minnesota will be able to serve about 45 percent of eligible households with the expanded funding.
Of the 38 states that increased their heating assistance benefits, most of these also increased crisis assistance benefits and several only increased crisis assistance. Several states increased the amount of funding they allocate to crisis assistance.
The majority of the states didn’t change the percentage of their LIHEAP allotment that they normally set aside for weatherization. However, with the increase in LIHEAP funding, most states are essentially doubling their weatherization allotments just by keeping the same percentage they set aside last year. Seven states responding to the survey said they are increasing their weatherization percentage or dollar amount; several said they would consider increasing the set-aside later in the year. Under the Continuing Resolution that funded LIHEAP, the Weatherization Assistance Program received $477.2 million, more than double what it received last year.
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Utility shutoffs, customers behind on energy bills and the number of people seeking assistance are increasing as a sagging economy is beginning to affect more consumers.
Electric and gas disconnections have increased by 5 percent to over 50 percent in at least 26 states, according to newspaper reports. For some utilities the number of shutoffs has remained about the same, but the amount customers owe on unpaid bills has grown.
Most northeast states, including New York , New Jersey , Massachusetts and Maryland , are experiencing increased shutoffs. Data from the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission show shutoffs for gas and electric utilities averaged 20 percent higher through October, compared to last year. Rhode Island has seen more utility shutoffs in the first 10 months of this year than in any year since it began tracking these figures.
In California , major utilities reported shutoffs up by 10-14 percent, with one utility reporting an average 48 percent increase in the amount of overdue bills.
The story is similar in the Midwest where utility shutoffs in Michigan range from 7 to 56 percent above last year and Illinois shutoffs average about 30 percent higher. According to the Ohio consumers’ counsel, roughly one of every 10 households has had utilities cut off during the past year; the state projects the number will increase as bills rise and the economy grows weaker.
Agencies nationwide report higher numbers of applicants for heating assistance, some as much as 50 percent more. Most agencies are seeing a broader range of clients – seniors, working families and over income persons.
In New Hampshire , applications are up by 27 percent and one-fourth of those are from households who haven’t applied in the past. One-third of applicants in Oklahoma are estimated to be new. As of early October, Massachusetts ’ application numbers had increased by 25 percent, from 90,000 to 112,500. New applications were up by 55 percent.
Demand for assistance is up in Ohio by about 25 percent, state officials say. One agency in Maine reported an increase in applications of 76 percent.
Increased need is evident as people wait in long lines for appointments in New Jersey and Ohio and where steadily ringing phones are frequently reported by agencies in New York , Pennsylvania and Washington . In Georgia , police had to be called to a LIHEAP intake site, and one arrest was made, in order to deal with an unruly crowd.
While home energy prices, especially heating oil, have taken a dramatic drop from their historic highs during the summer, energy prices as a whole are still much higher than they’ve been earlier this decade. According to charts compiled by NEADA from Energy Information Administration (EIA) data, nationally all energy prices are still nearly 50 percent higher than they were in during the winter of 2002-03. NEADA’s charts also show regional variations.
State officials in the Northeast reported heating oil prices of over $4.50 per gallon in July; prices for the first week of December had fallen to an average of $2.46 per gallon in Massachusetts , $2.58 in Maine , and $2.83 in Vermont . However, according to Vermont LIHEAP Director Richard Moffi, the prices are still unaffordable to many low-income people who are coping with a tough economy.
Natural gas prices have also moderated from all-time highs in July, and the EIA has revised its winter price projections downward – the latest projection says average gas heating bills will increase only 3.6 percent this winter. However, according to NEADA, gas prices are still 48 percent higher than they were during the winter of 2002-03.
LIHEAP grantees have until March 30, 2009 , to apply for FY 2009 REACH grants. Successful REACH grantees will receive their awards from the FY 2010 LIHEAP appropriation.
National Energy and Utility Conference (NEUAC)
The National Low Income Energy Consortium and the National Fuel Funds Network partner to present the National Energy and Utility Affordability Conference, June 15-17, 2009, at the DoubleTree Hotel Portland-Lloyd Center in Portland, Oregon. For more information about NEUAC 2009, including sponsorship opportunities, visit the conference website.
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