Bath, NY - Pro Action of Steuben and Yates, Inc. administers programs that help families with home energy in two ways: (1) home weatherization services and (2) the federally funded Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). It would be easy to lose sight of how important these programs are to families given the mild winter season and the concurrent drop in natural gas prices. But these factors have brought only partial and temporary relief … just enough to serve as a reminder of the typical burden that high home energy costs place on families.
Laurie Mault, Pro Action’s Energy Programs Director, explains why these factors actually haven’t significantly reduced local need for Pro Action’s programs. “For one thing,” says Ms. Mault, “Many people in our rural coverage areas in Steuben and Yates Counties don’t have access to natural gas lines and use home heating oil and other deliverable fuels to heat their homes. And prices for oil did not fall this winter.”
Another common problem Pro Action’s Energy Programs help with is energy inefficiency in homes. Ms. Mault relates how, on the Weatherization Program’s initial visit, some homes can have the heat set at 72 degrees while the thermometer shows the temperature in the house is just 60 degrees. Due to a lack of insulation and drafty doors or windows, homes lose a huge amount of heat, driving up energy costs for their occupants. When the Weatherization Program intervenes with services such as air sealing of cracks, insulation, heating system repairs, and home appliance efficiency measures, clients experience an average reduction in their annual energy bills of more than 20 percent, or $437. Ms. Mault reflects, “For families living on tight budgets, any reduction in monthly expenses makes a big difference in their quality of life and frees up limited cash for other basic needs.” And, Ms. Mault explains, “Energy programs are commonly misunderstood to help only with heating when, in fact, they aid families with cooling in very hot weather as well. Because some health conditions worsen in heat, families depend on air conditioning for more than comfort.” Insulation provided through the Weatherization Program helps homes stay cool in the summer, too.
Finally, Ms. Mault points out that Congress reduced the overall budget allotment for LIHEAP this year, ultimately resulting in less help for families to pay energy bills. Because of this federal budget cut, the average annual benefit received by Yates County families dropped by 33 percent from $513 to $345. Steuben LIHEAP recipients saw a drop of more than 36 percent in the average annual LIHEAP benefit, from $482 down to $306. Eligibility requirements remained the same, but each family received less help from the program so that, even with potentially lower winter fuel bills, families had fewer resources at their disposal this year to pay for them.
While it is true that the mild winter allowed families to set their heat at lower temperatures, people still needed to turn it on. And, for families living on low incomes, even that can be a hardship without adequately funded programs — like those provided by Pro Action — that reduce costs and assist with paying the bills.