Giving LIHEAP a Little Love this February

When it comes to the two sides of the energy assistance equation, the Alliance for Michigan Power (AMP) believes the most effective way to help Michiganders in need is to provide long-term self-sufficiency planning. However, there will always be a need for crisis energy assistance in emergency situations when time is of the essence. What do these two approaches have in common? Both rely on federal funding from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).

How LIHEAP Helps Michigan’s Most Vulnerable

LIHEAP allocates a block grant of funding from the federal government that is distributed among the states based on need. That money goes to the Michigan energy assistance budget and is then distributed among a variety of energy assistance programsboth self-sufficiency and crisis-based run by the state and private entities like The Heat and Warmth Fund and the Salvation Army. These programs — and by extension LIHEAP itself — provide critical lifelines for low-income households.

The challenge we face is LIHEAP funds have taken a hit in recent years. Even though 2017 saw a modest increase in funding from $3.017 billion in 2016 to $3.09 billion, that figure is still far lower than the $4.7 billion the program received in 2011. And while the LIHEAP program as a whole saw a slight increase in funding, Michigan’s allocation this year is roughly $140 million, about $17 million lower than last year.

What’s the difference between long-term self-sufficiency and crisis energy assistance?

Long-term self-sufficiency programs are those that help families and individuals overcome a negative cycle of shut-offs and unpaid energy bills. Focused on the root causes of late payments and overdue accounts, self-sufficiency programs offer tools like affordable fixed monthly payments, training, and elimination of late charges to help people become self-sufficient in their energy payments. Self-sufficiency programs are dedicated to eliminating difficulty in affording payments and shut-offs for the long term.

Crisis energy assistance programs help low-income families and individuals with a short-term solution when negative circumstances hit. Crisis assistance can help struggling Michiganders by providing financial assistance for heating fuel, electricity, or home repairs when Michiganders are facing immediate challenges that could affect their safety and well-being.

Our state works to find the right balance between the two to ensure we are stretching LIHEAP and other energy assistance funding as far as possible while meeting the needs of individual households. But our ability to find that balance is directly affected by whether LIHEAP is adequately funded — and right now, it’s not.

Support LIHEAP this Winter Season

Michigan has had a milder winter than we typically experience, but low-income Michigan families are still struggling, and temperatures are still dropping to unsafe levels, particularly at night.

LIHEAP Action Day falls on Valentine’s Day this year, and we’ll be asking AMP members to remind our members of Congress how important LIHEAP and other energy assistance programs are to protect our state’s most vulnerable citizens.

Stay tuned next week for your chance to show the LIHEAP program — and your fellow Michiganders — a little love by taking just a few minutes to contact our U.S. Senators and Representatives and ask them to make sure Michigan’s energy assistance programs receive the funding they need.