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 www.dhs.ri.gov/Programs/HEAPProgramInfo.php.
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.