Help for Low-Income Atlantans Hangs in Balance as Congress Stalls
(APN) ATLANTA — Inaction by the US Congress to make funding decisions regarding programs critical to Atlanta’s low-income families–particularly LIHEAP and CSBG–means that even more families than usual this year are facing homelessness and/or lack of heating.
The Low-Income Heating Assistance Program (LIHEAP) funds heating assistance payments for low-income families.
The Fulton-Atlanta Community Action Authority (FACAA), an organization which distributes LIHEAP payments to families, announced that it had already run out of LIHEAP funds this year, even before the assistance had been opened up to the general public.
In fact, FACAA has only been able to take applications for LIHEAP based on the State of Georgia’s projection of what it believes will be funded at minimum in the FY 2012 federal budget. However, FACAA has been telling applicants that even though they may qualify for LIHEAP, the funds may or may not actually materialize from the federal government this year.
LIHEAP is offered to seniors and disabled people first starting November 01, then to the general public on December 01.
However, on December 01, FACAA wrote in an email, “FUNDS ARE ALREADY SPENT!!!… Thousands of Families Will Not Receive Financial Assistance to Curtail the Burden of Paying Heating Bills.”
“Typically the LIHEAP funds are allocated to serve 12-20,000 needy families and senior citizens in Fulton County and Atlanta however, due to Federal Budget Cuts, there is only enough funding to help up to 6,000 households,” FACAA wrote.
“As of November 28, 2011 over 4,000 households applied for this help. It is expected that by November 30th the Fulton Atlanta Community Action Authority (FACAA) will have reached the maximum number of households,” FACAA wrote.
“This year, more senior citizens sought LIHEAP assistance in the month of November than ever before. The response to this service can be attributed to FACAA’s partnership with the Fulton County Office of the Aging. Over twenty senior citizens’ programs and neighborhood centers volunteered to sign up their members for this assistance,” FACAA wrote.
This week, a multi-partisan coalition of US Senators, including US Sens. Jack Reed (D-RI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Olympia Snowe (R-ME), are expected to introduce the LIHEAP Protection Act, which would restore the LIHEAP funding to levels of previous years.
Last year US Congress provided 4.7 billion dollars for LIHEAP.
The federal FY 2012 has already taken effect on October 01, 2011, even though US Congress has not approved a full budget for FY 2012; the nation has been relying on temporary, stop-gap funding measures for the last two months.
For the FY 2012 budget, President Barack Obama has proposed a 45 percent cut in LIHEAP funds from last year’s level to 2.57 billion in 2012. The US Senate and House also proposed reduced LIHEAP funding, at 3.6 billion and 3.4 billion, respectively.
“Washington needs to get its priorities straight. Helping those in need stay safe and warm is not frivolous spending, it is basic human decency. If Congress doesn’t act, fewer families will have access to vital assistance and people in need will literally be left out in the cold,” US Sen. Reed said in a statement.
“Misguided priorities from the President and a broken budget process have left thousands of Mainers vulnerable to an astounding 50 percent cut in vital heating assistance as we approach the coldest season of the year. While clearly, the federal deficit must be addressed, this draconian cut to critically important heating assistance leaves families in a potentially dangerous situation,” US Sen. Snowe said.
“In the midst of this terrible recession, when poverty is increasing and home energy prices are rising, inadequate funding for the home heating assistance program could lead to a severe winter health emergency,” US Sen. Sanders said.
Meanwhile, FACAA, like other community actions agencies across the US, is also facing difficulty in operating its emergency assistance program, which provides rental assistance, utility assistance, and other help.
The Community Services Block Grant, or CSBG, which funds community action agencies across the nation, has also not been fully funded, except in two pieces through Continuing Resolutions.
“The final appropriation amounts for the full fiscal year have not yet been determined, because a full year appropriation for FY 2012 has not yet been passed into law,” Jeannie L. Chaffin, Director of the Office of Community Services, and Seth Hassett, Director of State Assistance, from the federal Administration for Children and Families, wrote in an email to service providers.
“States, Territories, and Tribes received their first allocation of CSBG funds for FY 2012 based on a Continuing Resolution (CR), which provided funding through November 18, 2011. An additional CR was passed into law on November 18, and provides ongoing operational funding through December 16, 2011. States, Territories, and Tribes have now received a second allocation to provide resources through December 16, 2011,” they wrote.
The way the State of Georgia funds agencies with CSBG dollars is through reimbursements, even though the state also typically provides agencies with an advance payment so they can start spending the money. If seems convoluted and circuitous, it is.
But this year Dorsey says that the State of Georgia has not provided any advance funding to agencies, making the reimbursement process problematic, if not prohibitive, for local agencies.
Therefore, FACAA was only able to provide services with money from its limited reserves, and the state was only able to reimburse the agency for what it spent, which so far has included one payment of about 80,000 dollars, funding which FACAA just received on Friday, December 02.
As a result, FACAA’s provision of emergency services has become extremely limited, and this has put even greater pressure on other social service agencies in the area, meaning that other agencies have a limited amount or no assistance to offer.
APN emailed Governor Nathan Deal’s communications director, Stephanie Mayfield, regarding the state’s disbursement of CSBG funds, but did not immediately receive a reply.