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LIHEAP Clearinghouse News Bulletin - March 2014

Recapping Challenges of 2014 Heating Season

While prolonged cold weather across the country means many grantees are still operating their heating programs, an end is in sight. The 2014 heating season had more challenges than just the weather. It also experienced a propane crisis, changes due to the 2014 Farm Bill, and other developments that caused some grantees to scramble in order to continue serving low-income households.

The 2014 program year had a rough start, as the federal government shut down in October 2013. This impacted programs traditionally offering early enrollment opportunities to vulnerable populations. Kentucky ended up starting and then stopping enrollment due to the shutdown, along with pushing back the date for distribution of benefits. In a handful of states, including Georgia, Massachusetts, and Ohio, local administering agencies had to lay off staff. The shutdown ended in mid-October, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released the first installment of Fiscal Year 2014 funding in early November 2013.

Once programs were up and running, the next challenge was a propane crisis that hit Midwestern states hard starting in January. The price of propane shot up to as much as $7 per gallon, the highest price ever, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. There were many reasons for the crisis: the stockpile of propane was 42 percent lower than last year going into the heating season; a late corn harvest by farmers who used five percent more propane than usual to dry their crops; higher propane usage due to extended cold weather; and a major pipeline was down for maintenance.

The crisis led many Midwestern grantees to take action to help low-income households, which were vulnerable to the propane price swings. Some examples include:

Indiana

- Released $5 million in additional LIHEAP funds

- Raised benefit level from $400 to $550 through March

Iowa

-Transferred additional $600,000 to its crisis program

- Raised its benefit level from $500 to $600

Minnesota

- State approved $20 million in supplemental funding for LIHEAP

- Raised benefit level from $500 to $1,000

- Increased eligibility for LIHEAP from 50 percent SMI to 60 percent SMI

Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community

- Gave $500,000 to the Standing Rock Sioux in the Dakotas

- Gave $300,000 to the Yankton Sioux in South Dakota

- Gave $70,000 to the Santee Sioux Tribe in Nebraska

Wisconsin

- Transferred $8.5 million in state funds (to be paid back by future LIHEAP funding) to its crisis program

While propane prices started to decline in February, the impact of the crisis will stretch beyond the heating season for some programs. At a recent meeting of the National Energy Directors' Association, some states reported the use of additional funds during the crisis means they won't be able to offer cooling programs this summer.

As the propane crisis ebbed, the 2014 Farm Bill was signed into law in February 2014. It left over a dozen states trying to determine if they could keep their "Heat and Eat" initiatives. The Farm Bill required states to provide at least a $20 LIHEAP benefit as part of the LIHEAP/SNAP coordination, instead of the nominal amount ($1 to $5) states had historically offered. The $20 requirement was part of a bipartisan deal aimed at cutting overall SNAP spending.

The Farm Bill gave states until mid-March to decide if they were going to keep "Heat and Eat." Thus far, seven states (Connecticut, Massachusetts, Montana, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island) have announced they will make the extra expenditure of LIHEAP funds to keep the added SNAP benefits for low-income households.

With these assorted challenges, some states provided supplemental funding during the 2014 heating season. Going into the heating season, Vermont added an additional $2.7 million in state funds to the $6 million the legislature had approved earlier in the year. As mentioned above, Minnesota approved $20 million in state funds in March. In mid-March, Massachusetts also approved $20 million in supplemental funding. A few states, including Iowa and Missouri, still have supplemental-funding proposals pending.

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NEUAC Is Both an Organization and Conference

For years, the National Energy and Utility Affordability Conference (NEUAC) has been the premiere event for anyone concerned about energy assistance and low-income households. The National Fuel Funds Network and the National Low Income Energy Consortium sponsored the event. However, during the last six months, the two organizations completed a successful merger into one entity, the National Energy and Utility Affordability Coalition.

The Coalition is organizing the annual NEUAC conference to be held in Kansas City, MO, on June 18-20. The conference will bring together people from nonprofits, government agencies, utilities, and other institutions that provide energy assistance and efficiency to low-income families. According to the Coalition, the purpose is to "provide valuable information for energy assistance professionals and build national awareness of energy poverty." It will feature nationally-recognized experts, workshops covering a variety of issues, and exhibits.


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LOW INCOME ENERGY PUBLICATIONS


Closing the Solar Income Gap, State & Local Energy Report, November 4, 2013. The article gives an overview of the programs and entities in California that are making solar energy an option for low-income households. Find out more here.

Using Assets Tests to Establish Eligibility for Energy Assistance, FSC's Law and Economic Insights, November/December 2013. Author Roger Colton analyzes asset tests used in LIHEAP and other public assistance programs. He concludes such tests are a flawed way to determine energy assistance eligibility, in part because they appear to be in direct conflict with portions of the LIHEAP statute. He notes that federal SNAP, Medicaid, and TANF programs all have eliminated, or substantially scaled back, assets test requirements, which has generated administrative savings in the process.


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The content of this publication does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Department of Health and Human Services, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, organizations or program activities imply endorsement by the U.S. Government or compliance with HHS regulations.
National Center for Appropriate Technology

News Bulletin, Number 22

March 2014


In This Issue

Recapping Challenges of 2014 Heating Season

NEUAC Is Both an Organization and Conference


What's New on Our Website

LIHEAP Primer

Issue Brief: Assurance 16 Activities

Tribal Plans and PIAs

Tribal Vendor Agreements

State MOUs and Contracts for Weatherization

Tribal Funds by Program Component

Tribal Crisis Programs


Low-Income Energy Events

June 18-20, 2014

National Energy and Utility Affordability Conference, Kansas City, Missouri.


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