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Uncertainty Over Federal Funding for Low Income Energy Assistance

November 18, 2011

INDIANAPOLIS - Uncertainty looms over the future of federal funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) - which last year provided 165,000 low-income Hoosiers with about $355 for their winter heating bills.

In the meantime, says Dave Menzer, chair of the Coalition to Keep Indiana Warm, the state wants to serve the same number of people this year as last year.

"They have reduced the average benefit by roughly $100 for this year, so, this year's benefit will average about $255."

Menzer says three utilities - Citizens Gas, NIPSCO and Vectren - are asking the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC) to allow them to provide additional assistance to low-income Hoosiers who qualify for federal help.

"What they really asked for is the ability to help our agencies stay open so that we can continue to process applications and at a minimum still provide the utility-funded benefit to low-income households."

Public comment is being taken by the Office of Utility Consumer Counselor. The IURC is holding a hearing today on the issue.

Menzer says support is again coming from a longtime LIHEAP advocate, Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind.

"To Sen. Lugar's credit, he has signed on requesting the same funding levels that we have had last year. He recognizes the need and, as chair of the Coalition to Keep Indiana Warm, we really appreciate Sen. Lugar's leadership."

Congress has until midnight tonight to act on a continuing resolution allowing the government to operate through Dec. 16. Menzer says they're waiting for Congress to act on long-term LIHEAP funding.

"There is the potential to run out of funds before the holidays here if we don't have another continuing resolution or certainty on funding. "

Typical recipients for energy assistance are the elderly, disabled, and low-income households with small children. By qualifying for the program, they are also protected by the winter disconnect moratorium.

Leigh DeNoon, Public News Service - IN