LIHEAP DCL Zika Virus Outbreak
Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program
Dear Colleague Letter
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Re: Zika Virus Outbreak
Date: August 25, 2016
The recent outbreak of the Zika virus has prompted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Department of Health and Human Services to coordinate efforts across health and social services programs that help prevent transmission of this virus, with its impacts on children and families. While Zika is primarily spread through the bite of infected mosquitos, there are other ways of transmission Visit disclaimer page including a pregnant woman with Zika passing the virus to her fetus, potentially resulting in birth defects and adverse pregnancy outcomes.
In recent weeks the Office of Community Services (OCS), Division of Energy Assistance (DEA) has worked with our colleagues at the CDC to clarify information, outreach and allowable uses for Low Income Home Energy Assistance Programs (LIHEAP) in Zika prevention, and to make that information available to assist in the response. This Dear Colleague Letter seeks to highlight activities LIHEAP grantees, along with other partners, may take to prevent exposure to the Zika virus.
Avoiding mosquito bites Visit disclaimer page is the best way to prevent Zika. Two of the measures to protect against mosquito bites, using air conditioning, when available, and using and repairing screens on windows and doors have a direct relationship to LIHEAP activities. Additionally, the ability to pay electric bills can have a significant impact on a family’s use of air conditioning. LIHEAP grantees have great flexibility in the design of programs to meet the jurisdiction’s home energy needs among low-income households. Those flexibilities in several areas may concurrently mitigate exposure to the Zika virus through program uses such as:
- Weatherization — Up to 15 percent of the annual grant may be used towards low-cost, residential weatherization assistance, including the purchase of air conditioners, window screens, and repairing or installing air conditioners or window screens;
- Crisis — Grants may be used toward crisis assistance which includes payment assistance, and each grantee has great flexibility in defining “life threatening crises” which require an 18-hour intervention after application or a regular “crisis” which requires a 48-hour intervention after application; and
- Information and Mitigation — Up to five percent of the annual grant may be used to help households reduce their need for home energy, e.g., financial coaching, energy efficiency education, negotiating with utilities, etc. Such activities align with “assurance 16” of the LIHEAP law.
OCS encourages states, territories and tribes to consider needs related to Zika exposure and how LIHEAP activities may be able to prevent and reduce exposure. Using the flexibilities referenced above, jurisdictions might consider some of the following options and if necessary may request changes to State LIHEAP Plans:
- Grantees that offer LIHEAP weatherization assistance can choose to adopt some or all of the program requirements from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP), which prescribe requirements regarding home energy audits, installation of energy efficiency measures, energy related health, and safety measures, etc. Under the DOE WAP rules on health and safety measures, insect repellent-treated window screens are an allowable use of funds.
- Crisis policies and benefit matrices could be revised especially to target the households with pregnant women with window screen installation.
- Allocate funding to educational materials and/or instruction for households with pregnant members on effectively using the combination of air conditioning, window screens, and other preventive measures (clothing and repellent, for example).
- Provide targeted outreach to identify income eligible households through free or low-cost Public Service Announcements (PSAs) on television, radio and in newspapers about the Zika risk and air conditioner availability, electric bill payment and/or window screen assistance.
If LIHEAP adjustments involve significant changes, we ask that you submit a revised 2016 Model Plan to DEA as soon as possible after implementing the policy change(s).
For more official information on Zika risks, prevention and response, we encourage you to visit the following sites:
- CDC Zika Virus website: http://www.cdc.gov/zika/index.html Visit disclaimer page
- Department of Health and Human Services website: http://www.hhs.gov/zika/
We appreciate the work that you are undertaking to provide assistance to vulnerable communities as part of a coordinated response to Zika. OCS will continue to provide guidance on LIHEAP activities that can help with Zika prevention. Please do not hesitate to contact your OCS Regional Liaison if you have any questions.
Jeannie. L. Chaffin
Office of Community Services