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While more Rhode Islanders are working and wages are beginning to rise, economic struggle is still a reality for some. Making ends meet by stretching dollars to cover basic needs is a skill mastered by workers starting to climb up the economic ladder, and especially by people who are aging or living with disabilities and dependent upon fixed incomes. For these Rhode Islanders, household budgets are always precarious; a broken appliance, a car repair, an expensive medication, an increase in rent, or any other unexpected expense can trigger a financial crisis and endanger people’s ability to provide shelter, food, transportation, or other necessities for themselves and their families.

Rhode Islanders living with the draining demands of poverty and the anxieties that come from living on the economic edge can turn to the Department of Human Services (DHS) for help. One way in which we provide assistance is through the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). Administered in partnership with community action programs across the state, LIHEAP offers federal grants for households that meet a certain criteria as a way for them to help reduce the burden of energy costs. Whether a household heats its home with a deliverable fuel, such as oil, or with natural gas or electricity, it can often happen that people do not have the means to have sufficient heat and pay other essential bills.

Eligibility is based on household composition and income. For example, if a household of four earns under $58,113 a year, it would qualify for the program. Funds are sent to the household’s fuel vendor to help reduce its energy bill during the heating season. In addition, applicants may also request an energy efficiency audit for their homes to determine if weatherization measures would reduce energy use and, in turn, energy cost.

We helped 33,000 families last winter and have the capacity to do more this year.

If you are worried about being able to keep yourself or your family warm this winter, we urge you to reach out to the Community Action Program nearest to you and apply for heating assistance through LIHEAP. A listing of Community Action Program agencies can be found at

We and our many community partners can bring resources to bear for help with food security, child care, financial assistance, preparation for employment, health insurance, or long-term care. These kinds of assistance and others provide a bridge for working families over difficult times, support those seeking to enter the job market, and provide a safe harbor for those who can no longer work. The Department of Human Services stands ready to serve.

Courtney E. Hawkins is the Director of the Rhode Island Department of Human Services.

Joanne McGunagle is president & CEO of Comprehensive Community Action Program in Cranston and chairman of the board of the Rhode Island Association of Community Action Agencies.

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Another disturbing opinion not addressing the real issue which of course is: why is the basic cost of living in Rhode island so much greater than what can be supported by the average wage, let alone average household income?

The well compensated Director of DHS and the Pres and CEO of CCAP write that to qualify for LIHEAP in RI, the household income for a family of 4 has to be~$58,000 or less. Well the average household income in RI is a paltry $60,596. Is this at all disturbing to anyone that essentially half of all 4 member household qualify for LIHEAP? Sorry, look around, no one but the top 5% are moving up the economic ladder. Stop with the lies and distortions. All of these programs are not bridges until things get better, they are permanent supplemental programs keeping everyone outside of the to 5% from being homeless or at least frozen in one's home. For example, we were told that due to the recession of 1981-82 RI had to create a food bank to help the unemployed temporarily however, that fact is it has grown each year since it's inception 38 years ago and that doesn't even include the likes of the Johnnycake Center or the Pawcatuck Neighborhood Center. Who do you think uses these services happily enumerated by these two? Mostly people who are employed!

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