Saipan – Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan has introduced new legislation increasing the amount of funding the Northern Marianas receives for the LowIncome Household Energy Assistance Program.
“Families are struggling to pay for electricity here in the Marianas,” the Congressman said. “We have one of the highest utility rates in the country; and the current level of LIHEAP funding just doesn’t do enough to help.”
The CNMI only received$79,643 this year to help low income households.
Sablan’s bill, H.R. 3063, would authorize the Secretary of Health and Human Service to use at least 30 percent of the money from a related program, Leveraging Incentive Grants, for distribution to the U.S. insular area’s LIHEAP accounts.
$27 million was set aside for the Leveraging Incentives in the current fiscal year, so Sablan’s bill would have added at least $8.1 million to what the insular areas received this year for LIHEAP.
“Currently, the insular areas get $6.3 million to help low income households with their utility bills,” Sablan said. “So, my bill would more than double what households now receive.”
The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program became law in 1981 and was originally directed to stateswith high heating costs. Subsequent revisions of the law recognized that cooling is also an energy cost for low income households, but the funding remains skewed towards colder areas. Wyoming, for instance, received $13 million in the current year, while Hawaii’s share was $6 million.
The law provides for aset-aside of not less than one-tenth of 1% and not more than one-half of 1% for all five insular areas – American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands – to share. That insular area set-aside reflects the cold weather bias in the formulas.
But the insular areas,also, typically are allocated funds at the low end of the set-aside. In fiscal 2011 the insular allocation was just 0.13%, even though utility costs in all the insular areas are higher than the national average of 11.5¢ per kilowatt hour.
“Until we can bring down the cost of power in the Northern Marianas,” Sablan said. “We have to find ways to help families meet that expense.”