LIHEAP Q & As on Disaster Relief
The following are frequently asked questions and answers about what LIHEAP grantees (states, tribes and territories) can and cannot do under LIHEAP during a disaster:
Question: Can HHS waive the eligibility requirements for LIHEAP to allow assistance to all households affected by a disaster?
Answer: The LIHEAP statute does not authorize waiver of the income eligibility guidelines. However, federal law permits income eligibility to be established at either 60 percent of the state's median income or 150 percent of the HHS poverty income guidelines--whichever is greater. The 60 percent of a state's median income is usually higher than 150 percent of the HHS poverty level; both income standards are adjusted by the number of persons living in a household that is applying for assistance. It should also be noted that the LIHEAP statute permits LIHEAP grantees the flexibility to provide services to households with at least one member who receives assistance under the TANF, SSI, and Food Stamp programs. (This "categorical eligibility" also includes some means-tested veteran's programs.)
The grantee can change its eligibility limits to 60 percent of the state's median income to include those households that would otherwise not qualify for LIHEAP assistance under the 150 percent of poverty guidelines. On the other hand, the grantee could also set a higher percentage of poverty limit that is equal to 60 percent of the state median income. For example, in a comparison of 60 percent of the FY 2005 state median income with 150 percent of the 2004 HHS poverty guidelines, for a 4-person household, Florida could set its poverty income guidelines at 180% and be within the law.
[Note: the final appropriations bill for LIHEAP for FY 2009 and FY 2010 overrides current law to allow grantees to set eligibility up to 75% of the state’s median income.]
Please note that section 2604(c)(42 USC 8623(c)) of the LIHEAP statute authorizes the use of LIHEAP funds for "energy crisis intervention". That intervention must be tied in some way to a household's energy assistance need or emergency, to the extent that the hurricane has resulted (or may result) in energy supply shortages or other energy-related emergencies. Section 2604 (c) reads, in part:
- not later than 48 hours after a household applies for energy crisis benefits, provide some form of assistance that will resolve the energy crisis if such household is eligible to receive such benefits;
- not later than 18 hours after a household applies for crisis benefits, provide some form of assistance that will resolve the energy crisis if such household is eligible to receive such benefits and is in a life-threatening situation.
The 48 and 18 hour time frames do not apply when a grantee is affected by a natural disaster (such as Hurricane Katrina).
Question: Can LIHEAP funds be used as vouchers to pay for other living expenses, like rent?
Answer: The issue about broadening the intent of the LIHEAP program to include voucher payments for rental or mortgage payments could be a problem, since the statute provides that LIHEAP funds only be used for purposes related to home energy. To the extent that voucher payments are not connected to home energy, LIHEAP funds may not be used. However, under the block grant rules at 45 CFR 96.50(e), the LIHEAP grantee is the primary interpreter of the LIHEAP statute. There's a great deal of flexibility as to the kinds of home energy-related payments that may properly be made and, under the LIHEAP regulations at 45 CFR 96.50(e), Grantees' interpretations of statutory LIHEAP provisions are entitled to deference "unless the interpretation is clearly erroneous."
Question: What are the possible uses of LIHEAP funds for disasters, like hurricanes and flooding? What uses would not be allowed?
Answer: The following activities would be considered allowable uses of LIHEAP funds to deal with crisis situations, particularly with respect to assistance for home energy related needs resulting from a hurricane or other natural disaster:
- Costs to temporarily shelter or house individuals in hotels, apartments or other living situations in which homes have been destroyed or damaged, i.e., placing people in settings to preserve health and safety and to move them away from the crisis situation
- Costs for transportation (such as cars, shuttles, buses) to move individuals away from the crisis area to shelters, when health and safety is endangered by loss of access to heating or cooling
- Utility reconnection costs
- Repair or replacement costs for furnaces and air conditioners
- Insulation repair
- Coats and blankets, as tangible benefits to keep individuals warm
- Crisis payments for utilities and utility deposits
- Purchase of fans, air conditioners and generators
Unallowable uses of LIHEAP funds that are not home energy related:
- Payments for water/sewage (unless some of it is involved in overall weatherization, but paying water bills is generally not allowable);
- Mortgage or rent assistance is not allowable, UNLESS these are necessary costs to shelter individuals from the crisis situation for a TEMPORARY period of time (see allowable uses)
- Utility assistance for households housing displaced victims UNLESS the household is already low income and qualifies for LIHEAP assistance
- Ramps and wheelchairs
- School uniforms and school supplies
- Clothing (except for coats)
- Mattresses, cots, air beds and pillows
Question: Can a LIHEAP grantee provide weatherization for households affected by disasters?
Answer: If grantees affected by the hurricane or other natural disaster want to provide low cost residential weatherization and other energy-related home repair and possibly install new heating and cooling systems, water heaters, refrigerators and stoves, they could do this under their Weatherization program, but they would be limited to the 15% cap, or 25% if a waiver is requested. If a grantee provides these services under their Crisis Intervention Program, there is no limit.
Question: Should grantees provide amendments to their LIHEAP plan applications to include assistance during hurricanes and other disasters?
Answer: Due to the extreme changes made in programs to target benefits to disaster victims, it will be very important that grantees provide plan amendments. Plan amendments do not need to be submitted prior to implementing the changes, and can be submitted after the fact; however, states may want to consult with the Office of Community Services to make sure their activities are in compliance with the LIHEAP statute and regulations.