WA uses federal funds to help people pay for air conditioning, not just heating | Local

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An existing federal program that could have helped tens of thousands of low-income households in Washington state get air conditioning during the heatwave has not now been used.

At least 138 people died of heat-related causes during the historic weather event, according to the Ministry of Health. Low-income households and people living on the streets and in substandard housing were hardest hit.

Although Washington State receives more than $ 60 million annually from a federal government program designed to pay electricity bills, the state has only provided those funds for heating, not cooling.

That is changing now. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce – which distributes federal funds to 77,000 households across the state through the Low-Income Housing Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) – Washington will now allow those federal funds to pay for air conditioning purchases, repairs, or replacement of defective ones . and energy bills, the agency said in a press release on Tuesday.

Funds have not yet been spent on refrigeration, a state spokesman told The Olympian on Wednesday, and expansion will not begin until October 1.

The federal government does not restrict the use of LIHEAP funds. But across the country, states spent most of the LIHEAP dollars on heating. Currently, 18 states use federal funds to provide cooling aid, but it only accounts for 6% of spending.

A report by NBC News characterized Washington’s policy as a “ban” on spending federal LIHEAP funds on refrigeration, but the spokesman denied that such a policy existed.

“There was no refrigeration ban, it just wasn’t on Washington State’s program,” the spokesman wrote in an email. “Until recently, our climate dictated that the funds from the program were primarily used to support the heating system.”

In Thurston County, nearly 4,400 households have access to energy aid through LIHEAP, which has existed since 1980. These funds will cover the cost of gas, electricity, oil, wood or propane, according to the Community Action Council, which distributes the funds in Counties Thurston and Mason.

Eligible households are households up to 150% of the state poverty line, which is $ 39,750 for a family of four.

Oregon, which had a similar policy, changed it in 2015, according to an article in E&E News. Other states restrict how money can be spent in other ways: New York will pay to buy and install AC power, but not the utility bill pay, reported the outlet.

Total funding for the LIHEAP program has decreased from $ 5.1 billion to $ 3.7 billion over the past 12 years.

Do you have to apply for energy aid? You can schedule an appointment with the Community Action Council online or by calling 360-438-1100.

(c) 2021 The Olympians (Olympia, Washington)

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