by Sean Whaley, Nevada News Bureau: Thousands of Nevada residents who rely on financial assistance to pay their power bills likely won’t get help this year because of federal funding cuts, a state agency reported today.
Miki Allard, staff specialist with the Division of Welfare and Supportive Services, said federal funding for Nevada’s Energy Assistance Program will amount to only $4 million this year, down from $15.8 million in the fiscal year that just ended June 30.
While the funding provided by Nevada utility customers through the universal energy charge on their bills will remain relatively steady at $8.7 million, the anticipated decline in federal assistance has forced the agency to reduce both eligibility levels and the amount of assistance that can be provided, she said.
The income threshold for eligibility this year will be 110 percent of poverty levels, compared to 150 percent last year, Allard said. Thousands of Nevadans will lose eligibility because of this change, she said.
The amount of support will also be reduced to about $500 this year compared to $860 in the year that just ended, Allard said.
The reductions come as demand has increased, from 21,900 households being helped in fiscal year 2009, to 27,500 in fiscal year 2010 and 32,600 households last fiscal year.
“These cuts in federal funding will have a significant effect on Nevada families struggling with the highest unemployment rate in the nation,” said Romaine Gilliland, administrator for the Division of Welfare and Supportive Services. “For many families the assistance we are able to provide will not be enough to keep the lights on.”
Some who will feel the effect of the funding reductions are 1,700 pending applications from last year. The households will get no support in the just ended fiscal year because of a lack of funds. The applications will be processed for the current year, but the reduced eligibility guidelines will apply.
In Nevada, the assistance can help both for winter heating and summer cooling.
“It’s different for each end of the state,” Allard said. “We have a big influx of applications in the summer months in the south, and then an influx of applications in the north in the winter months.”
President Obama proposed a $2.5 billion cut to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) in his 2012 federal fiscal year budget released in February. The program was funded at $5.1 billion in the 2011 fiscal year, and it is the program that assists Nevada and other states in offering the energy assistance.
The American Public Gas Association (APGA) sent a letter to President Obama in February opposing the reduction, but Executive Vice President Dave Schryver said today that funding for the program remains uncertain given the focus in Washington, DC, on addressing the federal deficit.
“We’ve argued to the administration as well as to congress that even as they look at reducing federal funding, we think funding for LIHEAP is as critical as it’s ever been because of the economy,” he said. “More people are out of work, more families are in need, and as a result LIHEAP is even more important in helping those people meet their energy heating needs.”
The organization has pushed for an increase in the program to $7.6 billion but Schryver said such an increase would be “extremely difficult” given the current budget discussions.
Allard said today’s announcement is to alert those who use the program that funding will be reduced this year.
“They limped along for awhile with unemployment,” she said. “Now that the unemployment benefits are expiring – I talk to people on the phone every day who are just desperate. Their safety net is gone.”
Miki Allard, staff specialist with the Division of Welfare and Supportive Services, says demand for assistance depends on where in Nevada people reside:
Allard says the reduction comes at a time when many people have exhausted their safety net:
Dave Schryver of the American Public Gas Association says there is still a critical need for the program: