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Low-income families getting a warm feeling
By PAT JENKINS
Low-income residents of south King County may get warmth as an early Christmas present from Congress.
The nations lawmakers have appropriated $1.9 billion in regular funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and $300 million in contingency funds that can be released at President Bushs discretion.
The money for fiscal year 2005, included in a $388 billion federal spending measure approved by Congress Nov. 20, is about a combined $300 million more than was made available in the previous fiscal year.
Now people who can use the help paying their home heating bills just need to qualify for it. In the south King County area, thats done through the Federal Way-based Multi-Service Center. The social services agency administers LIHEAP locally, working with low-income families and seniors.
Due to the soaring cost of heating homes and families that are desperate, theres no shortage of applicants for the aid, said Bernie Hughes, the centers director of energy assistance.
From Oct. 4 through Nov. 7, the center received 13,680 calls for help. Hughes said that last year, the center served 5,165 families with LIHEAP funds, and that was just about 17 percent of the number of people who were qualified.
The additional funding (via Congress) could not have come at a better time this year, Hughes said.
The problem of matching available funds with need is the same nationwide. An estimated 30 million households were eligible for LIHEAP assistance in the
past year, yet only about 5 million were helped, according to Campaign for Home
Energy Assistance, an advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C.
The group noted the federal government provided $1.8 billion for LIHEAP in
1982, the first year for the program in its current form. The $1.9 billion
ordered by Congress for state-level programs next year (not counting the
discretionary funds) is virtually the same level of funding, even though the cost of
living from 1982 to 2004 has doubled and the number of eligible households has
risen every year.
Fuel for heating has gotten more expensive, too. Natural-gas costs are at
record levels, heating oil has topped $2 per gallon in some areas, and propane
are expected to cost more over the winter, according to Carol Clements,
chairwoman of the National Fuel Funds Network, part of the Campaign for Home Energy
So while a modest increase in LIHEAP funding is good, a significant increase
would be better, she said. We hope that for fiscal year 2006, Congress
somehow will find a way to make LIHEAP a (higher) priority.
The struggle to pay heating bills is felt by other forms of assistance at
Multi-Service Center, said Dini Duclos, chief executive officer.
With the rising cost of heating their homes placing increasing pressure on
low-income families budgets, we are seeing the fallout this time of year. It
shows up in our food bank line each week, Duclos said.
Editor Pat Jenkins: 925-5565, email@example.com