Shumlin asks lawmakers to find $8.8 million for LIHEAP

On Tuesday afternoon, Gov. Peter Shumlin called for the allocation of $8.8 million in state funds for low-income heating assistance in current fiscal year (FY) 2013.

This funding level would represent an increase of 44 percent from the $6.1 million paid out to the state’s fuel assistance program in FY 2012. That is the amount lawmakers say is necessary to keep up with the program’s growing demand, while also holding the average household benefit for five months at $900.

“We’re a state where neighbors take care of neighbors and neighbors take care of strangers,” Shumlin told a room full of lawmakers, citizens and members of the media at the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity’s Burlington headquarters on Tuesday.

“There is not a Vermonter who wants to see low-income Vermonters cold in their homes, making terrible choices between heat, the medicine they need to survive, food, clothing and keeping warm.”

Without these state funds, said Vermont Fuel Assistance Chief Richard Moffi, the average household benefit for fuel would be almost halved. But before the first wave of these funds are allocated in November, they must first be approved.

Shumlin’s Secretary of Administration Jeb Spaulding said that he expects the state’s Emergency Board to allocate the majority of these funds next Tuesday. The board has the power to allocate $7 million set aside by the Legislature for such issues, which is where last year’s funding came from, and it can allocate $900,000 in excess weatherization funds.

The remaining $900,000, said Spaulding, would have to come from the Legislature in January. There is about $3.9 million in state monies that were set aside to make up for federal funds. The administration is requesting that the Legislature allocate funds from that pool.

“It is our understanding, having talked with legislative leaders, that we’re all on board here,” said Spaulding. “We have confidence that we can send out these checks in the middle of November to make sure Vermonters are warm in their homes.”

The numbers and the people

Roughly one month ago, the Shumlin administration learned that Congress was level-funding federal the Low Income Heating Assistance Program (LIHEAP) for Vermont at $19.5 million.

Department of Children and Families’ numbers show that in FY 2012 the department had about $4 million left over in LIHEAP funds from the previous year. This fiscal year, the department only has $1.5 million leftover.

Additionally, Moffi projects that the state’s fuel assistance programs will serve about 28,500 households this year, which would be a more than 5 percent increase from FY 2012 and a nearly 50 percent increase from 2005. Program enrollment between FY2011 and FY2012 rose 2 percent.

The FY 2013 projection for fuel assistance households represents an increase of almost 100 percent from what it was FY 2005. In 2005, the number of households receiving fuel dollars was 14,252. In FY 2013, the projected number is 28,500.

The program saw its largest spike in recent enrollment between fiscal years 2010 and 2011. During that period, the number of fuel assistance beneficiaries jumped up 30 percent, from 20,399 to 26,546 households. The reason behind this rapid rise, said Moffi, is that the state increased the eligibility level for fuel assistance from 125 percent to 185 percent of the federal poverty line in 2010.

This fiscal year, Moffi pointed to the combination of less federal carryover from last year and more projected beneficiaries as the root of the increase in state funding.

Jan Demers, director of the office of economic opportunity, said that of the 8,300 people who came to her organization for fuel assistance, 30 percent of them are employed, 38 percent own their own homes and 20 percent have had some college experience.

“Who are they? They are hardworking Vermonters,” she said. “They are underemployed; one third of them are disabled; and they need our help.”

One of those beneficiaries was present at Shumlin’s announcement. Hester Thompson of Burlington came into the room with the aid of a walker and thanked the governor and the lawmakers for their support.

“I’m grateful for this because if it wasn’t for the help that I get from here, I would be freezing my tootsies off,” she said. “Coming down here helps me a hell of a lot, and I really appreciate it. So, thank you very much.”

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Andrew Stein

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  • Moshe Braner

    Diverting weatherization funds to cover current fuel costs is like burning the furniture to keep warm.

    • Lois Whitmore

      And you would suggest folks stay warm how? The LIHEAP funds, never adequate to meet the need, have been slashed. Was that an offer to share your warm home until others’ have been weatherized?

      • Moshe Braner

        I didn’t say “let people freeze”, I said don’t use weatherization funds for this purpose, since investments in weatherization multiply themselves in future savings on heating. There are other things we could spend less on to come up with the money for fuel assistance, ranging from parking garages for hospital to new computer systems for courts… Moreover, there are some old buildings in VT that are not cost effective to heat nor weatherize, and should be abandoned. Subsidizing their continued heating is counterproductive. Help people move instead.

        • rosemarie jackowski

          Not everyone can move. There are some real issues with the weatherization program. It does not cover some weatherization type needs. Maybe it is over-regulated. I don’t know exactly what the issue is.

          I agree that there are some other sources of funding. Cut down the beaurocratic redundancy…there is way too much ‘paper churning’ and duplication of effort. Also managing anything by committee, boards, and commissions is the least efficient way to go. (Maybe the State Board of Education is finally learning that. How about the vote in North Bennington yesterday.)

          Is it true that this year a new way of making payments will be used by the State so that the ‘paper work’ will dramatically increase, because instead of one payment to fuel dealers, now they will be sent a payment every time some one gets fuel?????

          No offense intended – but can you imagine running a business like the government runs. I bet it wouldn’t last one year. Taxpayers need to pay attention.

  • Lance Hagen

    This is a typical government problem, created by short term thinking. Seems that LIHEAP funding doubled from FY08 levels, as part of the of the $700 billion stimulus bill (guess oil delivery created jobs and was ‘shovel ready’). But the stimulus bill money was a onetime expenditure; meaning once the money ran out, there was no more.

    Now with the new influx of stimulus $, the wizards in Montpelier decided to expand the threshold from 125% to 185% of the poverty level to become fund eligibility. Did it ever dawn on Montpelier that they were creating a dependency and that the funds to support this increase eligibility would run out?

  • Karen McCauliffe

    Perhaps we should do an asset test for those requiring heating assistance. I am not sure if there are many people “gaming” the system for assistance, but we want to make sure that we are indeed helping the very people that most need assistance. If we had an asset test, we might be able to offer even greater assistance to those in most need.

    • Cheryl Pariseau

      An assists test should also be done regarding property tax prebates too. There is a portion of people in this state with substantial assists, but little earned income that receive varying types of social services. If an assists test were implemented for all social services we may be able to serve more of the truly needy or reduce the expenses to taxpayers.

      • Karen McCauliffe


        Well put by you in your comment.

        I agree with you having an assets test regarding property tax prebates.

        Also there is no assets test on Catamount health insurance or VHAP. One family that moved to VT bragged about selling their company in NJ for a couple of million and that they were able to get state subsidized Catamount health insurance and property tax prebates here.

        When the health insurance exchange is operational in VT, it appears that the people that previously were Catamount and VHAP will have greater costs out of pocket etc. and might need state subsidies. This seems like the perfect time to set in place an assets test for the those in the exchange that are requesting additional state subsidies.

  • Tom Pelham

    Karen and Lance – There was an asset test for LIHEAP but when they permanently raised the eligibility standard to 185% of poverty, even though the stimulus money was one-time, they also eliminated the asset test, which they called a “resource test”. It’s taken down now, but this was what was on the program’s front page back then.
    Who is eligible?

    Two recent program changes mean more Vermont families may be eligible for Fuel Assistance:

    1.The monthly income limits have been increased; and
    2.The resource test has been eliminated.

    You may be eligible if your gross household income is equal to or less than 185% of the federal poverty level, based on household size — regardless of the resources (e.g., savings, retirement accounts, or property) that you own.

    Click here for the 2011-2012 income guidelines.

    How much help can I get?

    As more families participate in the program, the benefits will be smaller. This means that you should plan to pay a bigger portion of your heating costs this coming winter.

    Also of related interest, on September 6th, the Public Service Board announced a new program for GMP customers, in cooperation with Vermont’s Agency of Human Services, to provide a 25% discount on electric bills for those with incomes less than 150% of poverty.

    This program will be paid for by new meter charges on GMP’s residential, commercial and industrial customers and is projected to cost upwards of $5.5 million, assuming a 30% participation rate of eligible beneficiaries. The Public Service Board’s review of this matter, however, anticipates the expansion of this program to all electric utilities in Vermont. For ratepayers, the risks of even higher rates from this program are many. For example, if the Board’s estimates on participation rates are higher than estimated (and the Board’s recommendations call for aggressive outreach), there will be pressure to raise the meter charges. Further, the Board anticipates the legislature raising the eligibility standard to 180% of poverty to achieve consistency with the recently raised eligibility standard for LIHEAP.

  • Cheryl Pariseau

    For those who may not know 185% of the federal poverty level is as follows:
    1 person: $20,664.50
    2 people: $27,990.50
    3 people: $35,316.50
    4 people: $42,642.50
    5 people: $49,968.50
    6 people: $57,294.50
    7 people: $64,652.50
    8 people: $71,946.50

    This may not seem like a lot of money for someone with no assists and justify assistance; however, someone with $1,000,000 in savings that is compounded monthly at 1.99% would receive an income of $20,082.51. which is below the 185% income threshold and therefore eligible for assistance. How is it fair that someone who is destitute and truly in need of assistance has to compete with someone who has substantial assists for assistance?

    • Craig Powers

      The people who really need the heating $$$ are being forsaken to buy more votes by increasing the program. Classic political thinking.

  • If the minimum wage were increased to the buying power it had in the late 60s. it would need to about $12/hr.

    LIHEAP would not need to exist, because people would be able to get along without it and many other government programs.

    Vermont needs a strict energy related building code, similar to the Passive House standard, especially for low-income housing.

    LIHEAP would not need to exist, because heating bills of low-income people would be about 20% of what they are now; it this rocket science, or not?

  • Andrew,

    Double-wide mobile homes that are R-40 or better {walls 8 inches of foam between 2 sheets of 1/2″ plywood (R-40) and ceiling 18 inches of fiberglas (R-60)} and last 100 years can be made in the factory and shipped to the site by truck for assembly on a foundation.

    If the foundation is a 4″ concrete slab, it should have 8 inches of 25 psi blueboard under the concrete AND the edges of the concrete should also have 8 inches of blueboard.

    It the foundation consists of a concrete basement, the OUTSIDE surfaces and under the slab and on the sides of the footing, should be covered with 4 inches of 25 psi blueboard. UNDER the 18″-wide footing should be 4 inches of 100 psi blueboard, available by special order from Home Depot, etc.

    Windows should be double-pane with high-density, vinyl-covered foam frames (R-5 or better)
    Doors should be 2″ thick, foam-filled (R-10 or better)

    The above will reduce the heating requirements by about 80%. Additional energy reductions can be obtained by LED lighting and high-efficiency appliances.

    CO2 emissions would be reduced, the buildings would look the same as standard buildings, the electrical distribution system would not need to be expanded, no ridgelines would need to be destroyed.

    As these houses are meant to last at least 100 years, none of them should be anywhere near any flood plains.

    The State of Vermont could be a leader for the rest of the country and show the way.