Last year, for the first time in the 41-year history of Hinds County Human Resource Agency (HCHRA), the agency expended all of its Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) funds before the year’s end. While this was partly due to a streamlined application process and increased operational efficiency, it was mostly attributable to the fact that Mississippi only receives enough funding to help 12 percent of the Mississippians who qualify for LIHEAP.
In a recent article published by Mississippi Today, Anna Wolfe, an investigative reporter on poverty, looked into how federal dollars are being allocated to fund LIHEAP and whether or not southern states like Mississippi actually receive their fair share. Wolfe also reached out to HCHRA to see how funding impacts low-income citizens in Hinds County.
Wolfe spoke to David Knight, executive vice president for HCHRA, about a Jackson resident who received LIHEAP assistance from HCHRA in 2017, but is now having a difficult time securing an appointment to receive additional assistance. Knight explained that the demand is so high, appointments are being scheduled thirty days out from the time any slots become available. In 2018, funds ran out about halfway through the year. “This year, they’re set to run out by fall,” said Knight.
The July 11th Mississippi Today article stated that the customer who was having problems scheduling the appointment, attempted to apply for LIHEAP this month in hopes that she could free up some of her household income to purchase school supplies and clothes for her children. The article also stated the automated phone system kept dropping her calls, making it even harder for her to get an appointment. HCHRA was pleased to report that by the time the article was published, the customer had already successfully scheduled an appointment and received the energy assistance she needed less than a week later. The agency also reported that although there was not a problem with their automated telephone system, there was, in fact, a problem with its telephone service provider which resulted in dropped calls. That problem has since been corrected.
HCHRA, like other Community Action Agencies who administer LIHEAP in areas where the funding is disproportionately allocated, is hoping that in the very near future, more emphasis will be placed on people’s needs based on poverty rates and energy burden than on states having the coldest weather.
Click here to see the full investigative report published by Mississippi Today on Mississippi being shortchanged on federal energy assistance funds for low-income homes.