LIHEAP DCL-2021-09 Flex-Hurricane-Season FY2021

Publication Date: September 15, 2021

Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program

Dear Colleague Letter

DCL#:                               LIHEAP-DCL-2021-09

DATE:                               September 15, 2021

TO:                                     Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) Grantees

SUBJECT:                        LIHEAP Flexibilities During Hurricane and Tropical Storm Season

ATTACHMENT(S):         N/A

Dear Colleagues,

PURPOSE: To remind Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) grantees of the various flexibilities and resources available to support households impacted by hurricanes, tropical storms and/or other natural disasters.

RELATED REFERENCES: 45 C.F.R. § 96.50(e)

Use of LIHEAP Funding for Disaster Relief

When disasters occur, funding from LIHEAP may be used to assist LIHEAP eligible households with crisis assistance. It is within each LIHEAP grantee’s discretion to determine what constitutes a qualifying disaster, what forms of financial and/or in-kind assistance to provide, and other related matters. Under the LIHEAP regulations at 45 C.F.R. § 96.50(e), the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will defer to grantees' interpretation of the LIHEAP statute "unless the interpretation is clearly erroneous."

Each grantee establishes its own policies and procedures with respect to all aspects of its LIHEAP program, including the criteria it will consider when designating a “state of emergency,” “disaster,” or “crisis.” In addition, the grantee can set up a payment structure for issuing crisis benefits that considers, among other things, a household's income, number of household members and type of fuel. A grantee may pay a crisis benefit only up to a certain dollar amount, or it can provide enough of a benefit to cover the entire cost necessary to alleviate an emergency. Each grantee must have its own guidelines for issuing LIHEAP crisis benefits. LIHEAP funds may be used for weather-related emergencies, supply shortage emergencies, and other household energy related emergencies, including the reconnection of electrical service. There is no legal limit on the amount of LIHEAP funds that can be used for energy crisis assistance. However, the LIHEAP grantee is required to report in its annual LIHEAP Model Plan the percentage of the funds it expects to devote to this activity, and what uses will be made of the funds. If an event causes a LIHEAP grantee to significantly change the amounts, or percent of funds, it expects to obligate toward crisis assistance or to change its intended uses of the funds, a plan amendment must be submitted in the Online Data Collection (OLDC Visit disclaimer page ) system. No prior approval is needed.

Allowable uses of LIHEAP funds to deal with crisis situations, particularly with respect to assistance for home energy related needs resulting from a natural disaster, include:

  • Costs to temporarily shelter or house individuals in hotels, apartments, etc., when homes have been destroyed or damaged, i.e., placing people in a temporary dwelling to preserve health and safety and move affected individuals away from the crisis situation.
  • Establishing cooling centers, which might include working with other public facilities such as local libraries, community centers, and government buildings to establish a waiting area where people can remain cool during the hottest periods of the day (usually 10 am - 4 pm). It might also include coordinating with emergency response teams in states, tribes, territories and localities to ensure that they are aware of cooling centers, how to refer people to LIHEAP for immediate needs, help move homebound individuals to cooling centers if needed, and other related issues.
  • Costs for transportation (such as gas, cars, shuttles, and buses) to move individuals away from the crisis area to shelter, when health and safety is endangered by loss of access to heating or cooling.
  • Utility reconnection costs/fees.
  • 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/or utility deposits.
  • Purchase and installation of generators.
  • Purchase and installation of fans and air conditioners.
  • Loaning or giving air conditioning units, especially targeting vulnerable households that will most likely be homebound or feel the temperature change the greatest, such as seniors, young children, disabled individuals, and those on ventilators or certain medications.
  • Providing targeted outreach to identify households at greatest risk, such as those who are homebound, to ensure they are in a temperature safe environment. This may include telephone calls, home visits, Public Service Announcements, etc. Interventions might include making sure they have working air conditioning units, setting the thermostat to a temperature that is safe for their medical needs—which might involve them consulting with their nurse or doctor—helping transport them to a cooling center, etc.
  • Providing education to applicants and recipients about how to keep their homes cool during this time.

Unallowable uses of LIHEAP funds that are not home energy related include:

  • Payments for water/sewage (unless some of it is involved in overall weatherization, but paying water bills is generally not allowable with LIHEAP funds). Note, OCS has a separate program, the Low Income Household Water Assistance Program (LIHWAP) that can assist households with paying their water and wastewater bills.
  • 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.

Please coordinate with other resources in your community to pay for these unallowable needs.

How quickly do LIHEAP programs have to respond to home energy emergencies?

Under normal circumstances, section 2604(c) of the LIHEAP statute requires an intervention to be provided within specified time limits (i.e., within 48 hours of application, or within 18 hours in a life-threatening situations), acceptance of energy crisis applications at geographically accessible sites, and provisions to ensure physically infirmed low-income persons have the means to apply for crisis benefits at their residences or to travel to application sites. However, section 2604(c) specifies these provisions "shall not apply to a program in a geographical area affected by a natural disaster in the United States designated by the Secretary, or by a major disaster or emergency designated by the President under the Disaster Relief Act of 1974 for so long as such designation remains in effect, if the Secretary determines that such disaster or such emergency makes compliance with such sentence impracticable."

Outside of a major disaster or emergency designated by the President, a grantee's chief executive officer (or his or her designee) can request a waiver when maintaining compliance with the LIHEAP energy crisis requirements is impracticable due to a natural disaster or similar event. The grantee's chief executive officer (or his or her designee) can request a waiver by communicating the following:

  • Information substantiating the existence of a disaster or emergency;
  • Information substantiating the impracticality of compliance with the standards, including a description of the specific conditions caused by the disaster or emergency which make compliance impracticable; and
  • Information on the expected duration of the conditions that make compliance impracticable.

Section 96.89(c) of the LIHEAP regulations specifies that, "The initial communication by the chief executive officer may be oral or written. If oral, it must be followed as soon as possible by written communication confirming the information provided orally. The Secretary's initial exemption may be oral. If so, the Secretary of HHS will provide written confirmation of the exemption as soon as possible after receipt of appropriate written communication from the chief executive officer."

Section 96.89(d) specifies that, "Exemption from the standards shall apply from the moment of the Secretary's determination, only in the geographical area affected by the disaster or emergency, and only for so long as the Secretary determines that the disaster or emergency makes compliance with the standards impracticable."

During a federally declared national emergency, grantees do not need to request a waiver from the Secretary to use LIHEAP funds for crisis assistance without meeting the 48/18-hour deadlines. Nonetheless, we expect grantees to uphold the spirit of this section of the federal LIHEAP statute by intervening in crisis situations to address imminent health and safety concerns and dangers for low income households that are eligible for LIHEAP.

Changes to Approved LIHEAP Plans

Grantees may change their program benefits and assistance types throughout the Federal fiscal year to address unexpected natural disasters or other events. Grantees must submit a revision to their LIHEAP Plan in OLDC Visit disclaimer page ; however, such plan revisions do not need prior approval. They may be submitted within a reasonable time after the event and/or plan modification.

Technical Assistance Consultation

LIHEAP Program Specialists in the Division of Energy Assistance are available to states, territories, and tribes to provide technical assistance or answer questions regarding flexibilities. In addition, they are available to help grantees develop their own LIHEAP Disaster Flexibilities policies. If grantees encounter other barriers to responding to individuals and families with low incomes, aside from those included in this DCL, please feel free to reach out to your assigned federal LIHEAP Program Specialists for consultation.

Health and Mental Health Needs

Children, families, and social services staff may experience stress and even trauma related to disasters. Mental health effects can be short-term or long-term. Responses vary by individual. Grantees are encouraged to work with local agencies and partners to support health and mental health needs.

The following resources are available, at no cost, to assist programs in responding to the natural disaster, as well as preparing for any future emergencies.

  • Coping with Disasters Visit disclaimer page is a series of tip sheets for adults and children on recognizing stress from an emergency, and information on how to address the emotional effects of the event.
  • Psychological First Aid Visit disclaimer page is an evidence-informed approach for assisting children, adolescents, adults, and families in the aftermath of disaster. The field manual includes handouts for parents, caregivers, as well as children birth to 5.

Hyperthermia Safety Outreach

When the power is out, LIHEAP households are even more vulnerable to the effects of hypothermia due to excessive heat. Seniors, young children, the disabled, and those with certain medical conditions are especially susceptible to the rapid effects on health caused by inadequate cooling. These populations feel the health effects quicker and with smaller changes in the temperature. This is also especially true for those living in more temperate climates that face an unexpected heat wave that their bodies are not accustomed to.

OCS encourages grantees to conduct outreach to LIHEAP eligible households about the availability of shelters and cooling centers, and general tips on how to prevent and recognize the effects of hyperthermia. The National Integrated Heat Health Information System (NIHHIS), a jointly developed system by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), provides more information Visit disclaimer page about understanding the health risks of extreme heat.

For additional information on how you can support households experiencing extreme heat please see the LIHEAP Heat Stress Dear Colleague Letter.

Generator Safety Outreach

OCS encourages grantees to conduct outreach to LIHEAP eligible and recipient households about the safe use of generators. If a grantee chooses to purchase generators to maintain power during and immediately after a disaster, such as for LIHEAP intake operations, for warming center operations, or to provide directly to LIHEAP households, OCS strongly recommends that safety guidance be provided along with the generators to avoid loss of life due to inappropriate operation of the generators. For additional information on using generators safely, see the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s fact sheet, Using Portable Generators Safely (PDF) Visit disclaimer page and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) fact sheet, Keep Your Family, Pets Safe When Using Generators Visit disclaimer page .

We hope this information is helpful to you. We have a shared interest in ensuring children and families have what they need during a disaster and that communities can recover quickly. We wish you the best as you provide vital assistance during these events.

Thank you for your attention to these matters. OCS looks forward to continuing to provide high-quality services to OCS grantees.

Lauren Christopher
Director, Division of Energy Assistance
Office of Community Services