States React to Milder Weather, Increased Funding
At the winter meeting of the National Energy Assistance Director’s Association February 28 and 29, most of the states attending or submitting status reports said the warmer weather had not resulted in a decrease in LIHEAP applications compared to last year.
Reports on LIHEAP from newspaper articles around the country also indicate that need for energy assistance remains strong and local administering agencies are spending their LIHEAP allotments quickly.
Two states that did report decreases in applications, Colorado and Nevada, attributed them to lower income eligibility levels that these states had implemented at the start of the program year.
Some states reported revising their programs as a result of a federal budget that was larger than originally expected. For example, a few states increased their LIHEAP benefits from the levels they had announced at the beginning of the heating season, before federal funding levels were finalized. Colorado increased its benefit from $300 to $344; Connecticut provided an additional $140 payment to an estimated 55,610 utility-heated households, and 23,334 households heating with delivered fuel were eligible for an additional $400. The program’s end date was extended from March 15 to May 1, and to May 15 for utility-heated customers at risk of disconnection.
New York will issue a supplemental payment of $150 to all 2012 LIHEAP recipients that pay for heat directly, and it moved its program end date from March 16 to April 13. Oregon is taking applicants off its waiting list and starting a new list, thereby opening LIHEAP up to more households. Several states reported seeing more applicants facing energy crises.
Massachusetts and Vermont received additional energy assistance money through their state legislatures, Vermont in late December and Massachusetts in late February. As a result, Vermont increased its average benefit to $935, from the previously announced $474; Massachusetts increased its maximum benefit for households using heating oil and other delivered fuels to $1,065 from the $675 it had announced earlier in the year.
Illinois has a new statewide PIPP that is taking the pressure off LIHEAP funds because clients can choose whether it is better for them to be enrolled in the PIPP or to receive a LIHEAP payment. Alaska, for the fifth year in a row, has received state funding, which it uses to help families at 150 to 200 percent of federal poverty guidelines, while LIHEAP helps those below 150 FPG.
However, regardless of additional funding, the Northeast states are struggling due to historically high costs of heating oil, which averaged $4.12 per gallon for the first week in March in Massachusetts and $3.86 in Maine, which reported an increasing number of crisis applications and a lower LIHEAP benefit this year. A Vermont agency reported increased applications and said that many families will continue to face challenges despite the infusion of additional federal funds and state funds. Read More