LIHEAP cuts 'devastating'

Posted Wednesday, November 2, 2011 in News

LIHEAP cuts 'devastating'

AUGUSTA -- The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services last Friday afternoon notified MaineHousing that it should expect to receive $23 million to apply towards its program obligations, down from $55.6 million last year.

“This is devastating,” said MaineHousing Executive Director Dale McCormick. “LIHEAP helps the neediest individuals among us, including low-income seniors and people who are disabled. With heating fuel costs already nearing a dollar per gallon higher this year, this drastic of a reduction could prove to be tragic. That’s what scares me.”

Of the $23 million MaineHousing is expecting to receive, about $800,000 will go for emergency furnace repair; $1.5 million will go to the Emergency Crisis Intervention Program and $20 million will go to providing heating cost benefits for the approximately 65,000 households that will qualify for assistance. The average benefit will be $307, with the lowest benefit being $72 and the highest at $828.

Last year, approximately 64,000 households received LIHEAP benefits, and the average benefit was $804. Fifty-three percent of the households served included low-income seniors or persons who are disabled. The crisis fund helped 4,946 with a $400 average benefit.

A key difference between last year and this year is a change in the eligibility levels. The federal government has reverted to 150 percent of poverty level for most applicants, and 170 percent of poverty level for persons 60 years old or older, individuals with children under age 2 or individuals at risk for hypothermia. Last year, the eligibility percentages were 170 percent of poverty level for most applicants, 220 percent for persons 60 years old or older, individuals with children under age 2 or individuals at risk for hypothermia.

Maine’s eligibility requirements also include up to 60 percent of average median income, which is $16,500.

“Even with the lowering of eligibility requirements, we still anticipate an increase in LIHEAP applicants for several reasons: changing household economic conditions; people becoming aware that the program exists; or people now seeking help instead of trying to manage without it like they have in the past.”

MaineHousing is working with Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins and Representatives Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud to encourage their colleagues to increase LIHEAP funding.

 Currently, the federal government is operating under a Continuing Resolution and not a budget that would have funded programs at the start of the federal fiscal year, which was October 1. In the past, MaineHousing has been able to notify the community action agencies and LIHEAP recipients by mid-October as to how much they’re going to receive in benefits because the budget was in place.

Two budget bills, however, are under consideration. A Senate budget bill would give $45.7 million in LIHEAP funding to Maine. This bill includes a provision to allocate more funds to cold-weather states. A House bill sets the amount at $33.9 million and does not include the cold-weather state provision.

“Obviously we’re in full support of the Senate bill,” McCormick said. “Thankfully so are Maine’s senators, who know of the dire situation Mainers are facing and are working tirelessly to convey this important message to other senators.”

To apply for LIHEAP assistance, people are asked to visit their nearest community action agency. A list is available at www.mainehousing.org and select “energy.”

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