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KY LIHEAP Illustrates Impacts of Federal Shutdown

October 25, 2013 — The federal-government shutdown caused numerous adjustments to Kentucky's LIHEAP, as it did to other programs across the country. Like other state programs, Kentucky LIHEAP found itself trying to predict how long the shutdown would last and the impact it would have on the viability of energy-assistance services. By the time the federal government re-opened, Kentucky LIHEAP had endured starts, stops, and extensions.

Before the shutdown, community action agencies announced in late September that an early application period would run from October 1 through October 25 for seniors and people with disabilities. All other income-eligible households could start applying in November. Program benefits were scheduled to be available on November 4.

When October 1 arrived, local agencies announced early enrollment would continue, despite the federal shutdown being in effect. Local officials acknowledged the shutdown could impact LIHEAP if it lasted very long, but they decided to continue taking applications.

"We are used to looking at contingencies," said Bonnie Belt of Louisville Metro Community Action Partnership, "if we need to hand out letters informing people benefits are contingent on the funding received. We are used to finding ways to get the job done."

By October 8, Kentucky announced the federal shutdown would delay the start of LIHEAP benefits by at least a week, pushing the date from November 4 to November 12. Commenting on the delay for receiving benefits, Community Resource Representative Jennifer VanHoose said, "They [LIHEAP recipients] are very disappointed because they anticipate the start date and they actually plan the paying of their bills, whether it is a utility bill or if they are waiting to receive kerosene."

Despite the delay in benefits, the early application period continued. However, with no end in sight for the shutdown, local agencies started pondering more problematic scenarios.

"We've just got our fingers crossed. We are looking at measures...you know if this continues for several weeks we are looking at measures to scale back operations and hopefully it won't come to that," said Big Sandy Area Director Mike Howell.

By mid-October, local agencies announced LIHEAP was suspended until further notice due to the shutdown, and early enrollment was either cancelled or postponed. When the federal government re-opened about a week later, Kentucky LIHEAP started ramping up again.

On October 21, Jefferson County announced it would re-open early enrollment for seniors and people with disabilities, and LIHEAP benefits were still scheduled to be available by mid-November.

"We are relieved we can now move forward in assisting those individuals and families in need of this utility assistance in Jefferson County," stated Katina Whitlock, assistant director of the Louisville Metro Department of Community Services and Revitalization.

The timing and length of the federal shutdown stressed LIHEAPs all across the country. Kentucky was one of a handful of states, including Massachusetts, Georgia, and Ohio, where local agencies administering LIHEAP laid off workers. The Blue Grass State is also an example of how programs across the country handled the ambiguities caused by the shutdown, so they could be up and running as soon as possible to help low-income communities.

Sources: Media reports