Budget cuts hit Alaska's heating assistance benefits
As of July 1, about 2,100 Heating Assistance Program (HAP) participants across the state no longer qualify for assistance. Although HAP uses the same application and process for both of its programs, the Alaska Affordable Heating program (AKAHP) and Low Income Home Energy Assistance program (LIHEAP) are not the same, says HAP Coordinator Susan Marshall.
“LIHEAP covers the lower income residents with incomes 150 percent or less than the federal poverty income level, and AKAHP covers higher income residents that are between 151 percent and 225 percent of the federal poverty income levels,” said Marshall. “The two programs mirror each other, but they’re not the same, and some people don’t know that.”
Despite similar goals, LIHEAP receives funding on the state and federal level while AKAHP is completely state funded. Due to falling oil prices and the subsequent budget cuts, AKAHP funding will be cut out completely, while LIHEAP participants will see a decrease in aid, leaving each group to be impacted differently, explained Marshall.
“LIHEAP participants that meet this year’s income guidelines of a gross monthly income of $1,855 or less for a household of one will only see 70 percent of what their grant usually looks like and will have to make plans to pay for the additional 30 percent out of pocket,” wrote Marshall in letters sent out to HAP participants on July 1.
“Additionally, there will be no application sent in the mail this fall for any AKAHP participants,” continued Marshall. “If you still believe you qualify for assistance under the new eligibility guidelines, applications will be available at Division of Public Assistance offices, WIC offices, senior centers, your vendor’s offices, and online at http://www.heatinghelp.alaska.gov beginning October 3, 2016.”
Letters notifying participants of the changes were sent out immediately after the program funds were cut during June legislation, said Marshall, with the hope of giving participants enough time to find alternative ways of paying for this winter’s heating bill.
“There’s a lot of different options out there for finding new ways to cover your bill,” she added. “We included an information sheet with the letters on different free and low-cost weatherization programs and encourage participants to contact their heating or electric vendor about signing up for a budget payment plan to make up for the lack of aid.”
“As of right now, it looks like AKAPH funding will be suspended indefinitely,” said Marshall. “However we do still have the statute for the program, so it could be reopened in the future. Other than the decline in oil prices, we’ve been having warmer winters, fuel prices have been lower and there’s been lower participation in the program overall. We had to look at cuts, but at least there’s federal funding for people that are most in need.”
Free weatherization programs and information
• Alaska Community Development Corporation. Available in Mat-Su, Kenai Peninsula, Copper River, Kodiak, Bristol Bay, Aleutians. 800-478-8080
• Interior Weatherization. Available in Interior Alaska. 800-748-5323
• RurAL Cap Statewide. Available in Anchorage, Juneau and western and northern Alaska. 800-478-7227
• RurAL Cap Anchorage. Available in Southeast Alaska, except Juneau. 907-279-2511
Low-cost weatherization programs and information
• Alaska Housing Finance Corporation offers free classes at Cold Climate Housing Research Center in Fairbanks and Wisdom and Associates in Anchorage. http://www.ahfc.us
Find information on how to get residential energy assessments, programs on how to help finance home weatherization improvements and an energy professional. http://www.akenergyefficiency.org
• Find energy saving tips and “Do It Yourself Energy Saving Project” information on things you can do to save energy in your home. http://energy.gov/energysaver/energy-saver
• The Cold Climate Housing Research Center offers various articles and publications on home energy saving tips and also offers workshops on a variety of topics. http://www.cchrc.org
• Golden Valley Electric Association in Fairbanks offers a program, GVEA Home$ense Audit, free to residents who meet income guidelines and $19.95 for everyone else. http://www.gvea.com/resources/energysense