LIHEAP DCL Disaster Relief and Outreach in the Wake of Recent Storms and Power Outages

Dear Colleague Letter

Publication Date: July 3, 2012

Date:  July 3, 2012


SUBJECT:   LIHEAP Disaster Relief and Outreach in the Wake of Recent Storms and Power Outages

Dear Colleagues:

Over the past week, a number of severe storms have swept across parts of the country, knocking out power to millions of households and creating health and safety hazards due to extreme heat and the reliance on secondary sources of home energy.  Additionally, certain regions of the country often face hurricanes and tornadoes that create similar home energy crises.

Use of LIHEAP Funding for Disaster Relief
When such natural disasters occur, funding from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (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' interpretations of the LIHEAP statute "unless the interpretation is clearly erroneous."

The LIHEAP web site provides guidance on how to use LIHEAP funding for disaster relief.

Grantees may change their program benefits and assistance types throughout the Federal fiscal year to address unexpected natural disasters and other needs.  Grantees must submit a written plan amendment by letter to the Federal Office of Community Services (OCS); however, such plan amendments do not need prior approval.  They may be sent within a reasonable time after the disaster and/or plan modification.

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, include:

  • 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 and installation of fans and air conditioners
  • Purchase and installation of generators

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)
  • 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

Though many of your programs may be closed for the program year, or out of funding, OCS encourages grantees to conduct outreach to LIHEAP eligible and recipient households about the safe use of generators, the availability of shelters and cooling centers, and general tips on how to prevent and recognize the effects of hyperthermia.

Hyperthermia Safety Outreach
While the power is out, LIHEAP households are even more vulnerable to the effects of hyperthermia 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 cooler or more temperate climates that face an unexpected heat wave that their bodies are not accustomed to.

Guidance with links to several resources about hyperthermia (and hypothermia for winter cold snaps) is available on the LIHEAP web site.

Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have extensive tips and information about extreme heat at: Visit disclaimer page .

Some of those tips about what to do when the power is out include:

  • If the power is out longer than two (2) hours, throw away food that has a temperature higher than 40°F.  Use a food thermometer to check the temperature of your food right before you cook or eat it.
  • Check with local authorities about the safety of your water.  You may need to boil it before use.
  • In hot weather, stay in a cool location (ideally with air conditioning) and drink plenty of water to prevent heat-related illness.
  • In cold weather, wear extra layers of clothing which help keep in body heat.
  • Avoid power lines and use electric tools and appliances safely to prevent electrical shock.

The CDC advises the following about coping with extreme heat:

Be aware of yours and others’ risk for heat stroke, heat exhaustion, heat cramps and fainting. To avoid heat stress, you should:

  • Drink a glass of fluid every 15 to 20 minutes and at least one gallon each day.
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine. They both dehydrate the body.
  • Wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.
  • Take frequent cool showers or baths.
  • If you feel dizzy, weak, or overheated, go to a cool place. Sit or lie down, drink water, and wash your face with cool water. If you don't feel better soon, get medical help quickly.
  • Work during cooler hours of the day when possible, or distribute the workload evenly throughout the day.

Heat stroke is the most serious heat illness. It happens when the body can’t control its own temperature and its temperature rises rapidly. Sweating fails and the body cannot cool down. Body temperature may rise to 106°F or higher within 10 to 15 minutes. Heat stroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency care is not given.

Warning signs of heat stroke vary but can include:

  • Red, hot, and dry skin (no sweating)
  • Rapid, strong pulse
  • Throbbing headache
  • Dizziness, nausea, confusion, or unconsciousness
  • An extremely high body temperature (above 103°F)

       If you suspect someone has heat stroke, follow these instructions:

  • Immediately call for medical attention.
  • Get the person to a cooler area.
  • Cool the person rapidly by immersing him/her cool water or a cool shower, or spraying or sponging him/her with cool water. If the humidity is low, wrap the person in a cool, wet sheet and fan him/her vigorously.
  • Monitor body temperature and continue cooling efforts until the body temperature drops to 101-102°F.
  • Do not give the person alcohol to drink. Get medical assistance as soon as possible.
  • If emergency medical personnel do not arrive quickly, call the hospital emergency room for further instructions.

For more information on heat-related illnesses and treatment, see the CDC Extreme Heat website Visit disclaimer page .  Information for workers can be found on the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) webpage Working in Hot Environments Visit disclaimer page and at: Visit disclaimer page

Generator Safety Outreach
If a grantee chooses to purchase generators to maintain power during and immediately after a disaster, such as for LIHEAP intake operations, for cooling 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.

Generators have hazards ranging from shock and electrocution to carbon monoxide poisoning, fire hazards, and noise and vibration hazards.  Some key reminders about using generators safely include:

  • When using portable generators, use them only outdoors in well ventilated areas.
  • Do not use generators in garages, near doors, windows or vents.  Fatal fumes from generators can build up, that neither a fan nor open doors and windows can provide enough fresh air.
  • Use a battery-powered carbon monoxide detector in the area you’re running a generator.  Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless byproduct of combustion engines that can cause illness and death.  If you or others show symptoms of CO poisoning, such as dizziness, headaches, nausea, and tiredness, immediately get to fresh air and seek medical attention.
  • Never add fuel to a running or hot generator.  Let it cool at least 2 minutes before you add fuel!   Gasoline and its vapors are extremely flammable.
  • If you do not plan to use your generator in 30 days, don’t forget to stabilize the gas with fuel stabilizer.
  • Gasoline and other generator fuels should be stored and transported in approved containers that are properly designed and marked for their contents, and vented.
  • Keep fuel containers away from flame producing and heat generating devices (such as the generator itself, water heaters, cigarettes, lighters, and matches). Do not smoke around fuel containers.
  • Never operate the generator near combustible materials.
  • If you have to use extension cords, be sure they are of the grounded type and are rated for the application. Coiled cords can get extremely hot; always uncoil cords and lay them in flat open locations.
  • Never plug your generator directly into your home outlet. If you are connecting a generator into your home electrical system, have a qualified electrician install a Power Transfer Switch.
  • Generators produce powerful voltage - Never operate under wet conditions. Take precautions to protect your generator from exposure to rain and snow.
  • Wear hearing protection (such as ear plugs or headphones) while operator a generator.  Generator engines vibrate and create noise.  Excessive noise and vibration could cause hearing loss and fatigue.
  • Maintain your generator according to the manufacturer’s maintenance schedule and read the user manual thoroughly.

This information is from the National Safety Council’s Portable Generator Safety Tips fact sheet available at: Visit disclaimer page and from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) fact sheet, Important Tips to Ensure Safety When Using Generators, available at: Visit disclaimer page

We hope this information is helpful to you and wish you the best as you provide vital assistance during these disasters.

Jeannie L. Chaffin
Office of Community Services

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