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Low-income energy assistance grant will increase in January

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) plans to increase in January the Low Income Heating and Energy Assistance (LIHEAP) grant to the insular areas, including American Samoa.


The increase followed efforts by the territorial delegation to the U.S. House, which includes Congressman Faleomavaega Eni and his colleagues from the other U.S. territories.


“We have worked together collectively in urging HHS to reevaluate current funding levels and make the right decision for families in the U.S. territories,” said Faleomavaega last week in a news release by his office.


 “As result of our teamwork, more families in the territories, including American Samoa, will have the assistance they need, and I am very pleased and thankful for this positive outcome.”


Faleomavaega said the grant hike will “almost quadruple” the amount of LIHEAP funding to the territories. For example, in FY 2013, American Samoa received $72,869 under LIHEAP, which helps low-income households pay heating or cooling bills.


According to HHS estimates, American Samoa will now receive $270,000 in LIHEAP funding in FY 2014, an increase of almost $200,000, he said, adding that funding increase takes effect Jan. 1, 2014.


Faleomavaega’s statement recalled that the territorial delegates’ push for an increase started in October 2011 when the Delegates petitioned Secretary Kathleen Sebelius of HHS to provide the territories with the maximum level of funding under the law.


In a follow up letter this past August, the Delegates provided new data on poverty levels and electricity rates in the U.S. territories compared to the national average. The data indicated the significant disparity between the territories and the states in relation to the need for assistance.


For example, in American Samoa, the average retail price of electricity is 37-cents per kilowatt-hour, where the national average is 11.8-cents per kilowatt-hour. 


Under the LIHEAP statute, the Secretary of HHS has the discretion to set the share of funds going to territories at a level between 0.1 percent and 0.5 percent.  The level has been set at 0.135 percent since 1984 and for the first time will be set to the maximum level allowed under federal law.


Faleomavaega thanked Sebelius and HHS for responding to the needs of the territories and “making this critical decision” to increase LIHEAP funding. He also thanked his fellow congressional Delegates.