LIHEAP Applications Increase While Benefits Decrease
State LIHEAP directors are seeing increases in LIHEAP applications while dealing with decreased initial LIHEAP funding and uncertainty over what the program's final funding level will be.
Federal programs, including LIHEAP are operating under Continuing Resolutions (CR) probably until a new Congress takes the helm in January.
The National Energy Assistance Directors' Association reported November 29 that ten states are predicting increases in LIHEAP applications of at least 10 percent over last year: Vermont, 64 percent; Florida, 49; Massachusetts, 21 percent; Wyoming, 20 percent; Oklahoma, 14 percent; and Wisconsin, Kansas, Hawaii, Utah, and Maryland, 10 percent.
NEADA and other national groups called on Congress to restore LIHEAP funding to the $5.1 billion it had for FY 2009 and FY 2010, during which time households served reached record levels, culminating at an estimated 9 million households in FY 2010. While the House has provided for $5.1 billion for 2011 LIHEAP funding, the Senate has recommended $3.3 billion ($2.709 billion for the regular block grant and $590 million for emergency contingency funding). First quarter funding under the CRs was based on the lower Senate number for the block grant.
NEADA projected that LIHEAP funding at the Senate level would mean about 2 million fewer households would receive benefits.
Surveys of state directors by the LIHEAP Clearinghouse reveal that a majority planned to cut benefits (which they had increased in FY 2009 or 2010) in the wake of the lowered funding level. Colorado, Massachusetts, Maine, Michigan (crisis), Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire and Wisconsin are among the states with significant benefit cuts, in the 40 to 50 percent range. Those who have kept benefits stable such as New York and Connecticut anticipate they'll have to serve fewer households. Connecticut's Governor Jodi Rell sought to lower LIHEAP benefits but was overruled by the state legislature. Most states say they will increase benefits if funding is increased.
Reduced benefits in the Northeast states such as Maine and New Hampshire are especially hard on households with oil heat because the benefit may not be large enough to fill their oil tanks. As of early December heating oil was close to $3 per gallon, compared to about $2.64 at this time last year.
Most states kept their income eligibility maximums the same as last year, but Nebraska lowered its maximum from 125 to 116 percent and New Jersey from 225 to 200 percent.
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New Jersey Legislature Approves More Funds for Energy Assistance
Last January, New Jersey's former Governor Jon Corzine signed into law a bill that appropriated $25 million from the state's societal benefits charge (SBC) to help the low-income pay their electric and gas bills.
The law directed the Board of Public Utilities to grant the funds to a nonprofit organization to provide temporary energy assistance to households. The Board recently voted to solicit bids from organizations to distribute the funds by early next year.
The program, called Temporary Relief for Utility Expenses (TRUE), will help New Jersey residents who are not enrolled in or eligible for the state's Universal Service Fund (USF) payment assistance program or LIHEAP. Households also must be in a crisis situation with documented notice of an overdue utility bill and have a history of making regular payments toward the utility bill.
The SBC also funds New Jersey's USF that allows participants to pay no more than 6 percent of their income for energy bills. Eligibility for the USF programs is set at 175 percent or below the federal poverty level.
In October, the Board increased the 2011 USF budget from $195 million to $215 million. According to Kristi Izzo, board secretary, the number of participants in the USF passed 200,000 for the first time.
The board also approved $72.6 million from SBC funds for the Lifeline program, which provides senior and disabled citizens with a $225 annual energy benefit.
The SBC amounts to about $44.46 per year on gas and electric customers' utility bills.
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Montana REACH Develops Recommendations for Weatherizing Homes With Asbestos
The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS), the LIHEAP grantee, received a $1 million REACH award in 2006 for the Montana Asbestos-Safe Weatherization Demonstration Project. The primary goal of the project was to develop and test procedures that would allow agencies to safely weatherize low-income homes that have asbestos-containing materials.
DPHHS proposed the project because each year about 200 low-income homes in Montana were denied weatherization due to asbestos-containing materials found in attic insulation, pipe or duct insulation or wall, ceiling and siding materials. Weatherization staff feared that implementing some weatherization measures would disturb asbestos-containing materials, causing asbestos fibers to become airborne and creating health and safety hazards to workers and residents. U.S. Department of Energy weatherization rules limit expenditures for asbestos removal and mitigation.
DPHHS contracted with the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT), a nonprofit based in Butte, Montana, to direct the project. NCAT partnered with several Montana weatherization agencies and university staff to implement the project.
The primary goal of the project was to develop and test procedures that would allow agencies to safely weatherize low-income homes that have asbestos-containing materials.
Bulk/baseline sampling was conducted in 46 homes. After testing and confirming that bulk samples from the home contained asbestos, the homes were tested for the presence of asbestos fibers in the living spaces. If asbestos contamination exceeded project background levels, asbestos-containing materials had to be removed before the home could be weatherized.
Of the 46 homes tested, 16 were weatherized without needing to remove asbestos-containing materials, 21 required asbestos removal, at an average cost of $3,400, and were cleared by air sampling prior to weatherization, and nine of the homes were eliminated from the project for various reasons.
Project results showed that performing weatherization measures has the potential to disturb asbestos-containing materials and disperse asbestos fibers into the living space, presenting a risk to weatherization workers and home occupants.
The REACH project accomplished two important goals: 1) low-income homes with asbestos received much-needed weatherization; and 2) draft protocols for safely weatherizing homes with asbestos were developed based on extensive asbestos testing and monitoring conducted over the project period.
The protocols will provide guidance for weatherization agencies to implement weatherization measures in homes that contain asbestos-containing materials. Protocols recommended in this study call for testing and, when necessary, cleaning of homes that would in all likelihood exceed the Weatherization Assistance Program guidelines.
Project conclusions are: 1) all homes with either vermiculite or thermal system insulation with asbestos require baseline testing, especially since more than half of the homes evaluated via baseline sampling required cleaning by a licensed asbestos abatement contractor; and 2) unless funding can be found for testing and potential cleaning of the living spaces, it would be imprudent for a weatherization agency to proceed with weatherizing a house with asbestos, even if tests show no contamination of living spaces.
The final project report and an appendix that provides a summary of the weatherization activities that took place in each house are available.
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