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LIHEAP Funds OK'd for Energy Costs

$845 million to help low-income households

Typically, LIHEAP funds are allocated among 12,000 to 20,000 needy families and older people in Fulton County and Atlanta. But due to budget cuts, only 6,000 households were slated to get help this winter — that is, before the additional HHS funds were made available.

The situation can turn dangerous, even deadly, when heating is cut off because of failure to pay the bills. Jerry McKim, LIHEAP director for Iowa, says his state got $71 million in aid in fiscal year 2011, which helped about 96,000 households with an average benefit of $565. This winter, he says, the average benefit was expected to be about $285.

"Most of my mornings are spent talking to desperate people," he says. "I just talked to one older lady who keeps her thermostat at 58 degrees."

A public health problem

"The consequences of unaffordable energy are dire," McKim adds. "This is more than an energy issue; this is a serious public health matter. This program is not the place to be [exercising] fiscal restraint."

Prices for other types of heating, such as natural gas and electricity, will remain fairly steady, according to the AARP report.In the mid-Atlantic and south central regions, a typical household's natural gas bill for the heating season will creep up by about $11 this winter, but it will drop by about $5 for residents in the upper Midwest, the report said.

The cost will drop off slightly or stay about the same in most other regions across the United States.

Winter heating costs tend to be a greater burden on older low-income households, even though they tend to use less heating fuel than other groups, because a greater percentage of their income goes toward such costs, the report said.

Go to the LIHEAP website If you're interested in applying for home heating assistance.

Carole Fleck is a senior editor at the AARP Bulletin.

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