National Center for Appropriate Technology
After having record heating season enrollments, a handful of states have begun summer cooling programs. They will be well received, because even before the first day of summer, heat waves began to be reported in some states.
Illinois began a limited cooling assistance program July 6, which will run until funds are spent. It is targeted to at-risk households, defined as seniors, disabled, families with young children and those with a medical certification. These households will receive a $150 payment.
A heat wave in Illinois and a suspected faulty air conditioner contributed to a woman’s death during the last week of June. In St. Louis, officials conducted public outreach about cooling centers and energy assistance.
On June 22, a Houston man died of a heat-related illness, which prompted a Texas state legislator to petition the public utility commission to adopt an emergency rule that would prohibit disconnection of electric service during periods of extreme heat (a heat index of 105 degrees or more) through September 30. The petition noted that in mid-June nearly 50 counties in Texas had recorded heat indices of 105 degrees or more. Texas runs a year-round LIHEAP program and funds are available for cooling bills.
New York also began a limited cooling program for the second year in a row. Eligible are persons with a medical condition documented by a doctor, as long as they meet income guidelines and have a living arrangement designated eligible for cooling services. Assistance is available on a first-come, first-served basis through August 31 or until funds run out.
Ohio’s program provides assistance to low-income households with an elderly member (60 years or older), or households that can provide physician documentation that cooling assistance is needed for a household member's health. These households are eligible for electric bill payment assistance up to $175. The program began July 1 and continues through August 31.
Arkansas began its cooling program July 1 and it will operate through September 30. It offers regular and crisis assistance for electric bills only. Virginia’s program began June 15, and is geared toward the elderly, disabled, and children. Recipients can get up to $300 to help with their electric bills or help purchasing cooling equipment.
In Louisiana, the three utilities serving the New Orleans area reported that electric bills will be substantially lower this year than they were last year, due to lower natural gas costs for the utilities’ generating plants. Yet social service agencies reported increasing numbers of households with disconnect notices and that assistance funds were depleting rapidly.
Other states also are reporting record numbers of people disconnected from utility service. For example, in Michigan, f rom 2007 to 2008, the number of electric and gas shutoffs for nonpayment of bills increased 60 percent for DTE Energy and its natural gas subsidiary, MichCon. In the last four years, DTE has accumulated nearly $600 million in unpaid bills.
Social service agencies say the problem is growing as more people lose jobs or unemployment benefits. DTE expects to exceed the 139,064 utility shutoffs it had in 2008, with shutoffs expected to increase through the end of the year.In Maryland, utilities began shutting off people in late June for unpaid bills, after they had sent collection notices in May to over 300,000 who were in arrears. Newspaper articles estimated at least 75,000 people could be shut off, although not all are low income.
Nearly 650 people gathered in Portland, Oregon, on June 15-17, 2009, when the National Fuel Funds Network and National Low Income Energy Consortium presented NEUAC 2009, the National Energy and Utility Affordability Conference.
This landmark, three-day event is the largest single gathering in the U.S. to address the need for affordable home energy and other utilities for low-income people.
The conference website has been updated to provide copies of many presentations from over 40 workshops in seven tracks including energy availability and sustainability, weatherization and conservation, energy assistance and education, outreach and advocacy, vulnerable populations, energy programs in Indian country and the evolution of utility and fuel programs. (Note: not all presentations are available online.)
During a plenary session on Wednesday, June 17, speakers Dale McCormick of Maine State Housing Authority, (the state LIHEAP and weatherization office) and Jim Jacob of New Jersey Shares, a statewide fuel fund, discussed how the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states’ Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative has allocated carbon auction funds for low-income energy assistance and energy efficiency programs in those two states.
Also on Wednesday, LIHEAP directors from the states of New Hampshire, Washington and Arizona presented their state’s experiences in the wake of the record $5.1 billion in LIHEAP funds for FY 2009. They compared 2009 program statistics with the prior two years, outlined program changes and challenges agencies faced in handling dramatically increased funding.
Next year the project sponsors will present NEUAC 2010 in San Antonio, Texas, June 14-16.
The National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association (NEADA) in April released the results of its 2008 National Energy Assistance Survey. The survey documented changes in the affordability of energy bills, the need for LIHEAP, and the choices that low-income households make when faced with unaffordable energy bills; it also compared the results with those of its 2003 survey. NEADA is currently working on its 2009 survey, which will document the impacts of increased LIHEAP funding.
The survey confirmed many of the families receiving LIHEAP assistance are struggling to pay their home energy bills and that without LIHEAP many more would be facing shut-off of home energy service. The survey found that Record numbers of households reported sacrificing to pay their home energy bills. As compared to 2003 survey, 32 percent versus 22 percent went without food for at least a day; 42 percent versus 38 percent went without medical or dental care and 38 percent versus 30 percent did not fill prescription or took less than a full dose of medicine.
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