Wintry Weather Takes a Toll on Federal Low-Income Assistance

Advocates calling for added funds for FY2016

In 2014, Kim Campbell, senior manager for customer advocacy at TXU Energy, helped lead a poverty simulation to give members of Congress and their staffs a glimpse of the challenges low-income Americans face each day.

Advocates for low-income Texans are warning that the recent wintry weather could take a fair chunk from the $115 million that Texas has available in federal home energy assistance. Without a refill from federal lawmakers, that could mean a steamy summer.

State administrators and advocates for the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) are headed to Washington, D.C., this week to discuss the program’s benefits and push for additional funding for 2016. Meanwhile, some federal lawmakers are calling on the Health and Human Services Department to move money from other programs to help with utility bills in 2015. Based on how money flows through two funding formulas, Texas could be in line for additional money to help residents this year.

The federal program, which Texas calls the Comprehensive Energy Assistance Program, doles out money to participating government and social service agencies. In turn, those agencies verify eligibility and distribute the funds on a first-come, first-served basis. That means the agencies cannot hold funds in reserve for the summer if they have pending requests for help with winter bills.

While much of the winter has been mild, extreme temperatures in early January, late February and the beginning of March drove up natural gas and electricity consumption for many Texans. As those invoices come due, demand for assistance will increase.

“Texas has led the way in the country’s economic recovery, but there remain a significant number of people living near the poverty line and in need of help,” said Kim Campbell, senior manager for customer advocacy at TXU Energy. “And while Texas has a diverse economy, the recent down turn in oil prices still hurt many Texans.”

Fewer available dollars from the federal program will hit at the same time that most Texans experience high electricity usage during the summer. Low-income electricity consumers may qualify for assistance through a state-funded low-income discount or programs provided by retail electricity providers.

The state’s LITE UP Texas program provides a discount to eligible customers for electricity used from May to September. This discount will be about 15 percent for consumption between May and August. Lawmakers are expected to set a new discount level for September and for the summer months of 2016.

“We want to be sure that Texans know where to get help and we want to be sure that help is available when it’s needed,” Kim said.

TXU Energy is an active member of a national coalition of energy and advocacy groups working to ensure federal lawmakers recognize the great need for the program and for additional funding. The company also maintains its more than 30-year-old TXU Energy AidSM program to help customers in crisis. Unlike government programs, TXU Energy Aid is not limited to chronically low-income Texans, making it available to people struck by emergency medical bills, a loss of a job or other crisis.

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