Low-income households in the CNMI and other U.S. territories will soon receive more energy assistance as a result of a 400-percent increase in the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, grant that the Department of Health and Human Services officially announced last week.
Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) said territorial delegates have worked on a higher LIHEAP grant for over two years.
“Each territory gets a 400-percent increase. That means $214,000 to help low-income households in the Northern Marianas. Funding had been frozen since 1984, despite increases in the cost of electricity in the islands,” Sablan said.
He said the territorial delegates were able to convince DHHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to use her administrative authority to increase the LIHEAP territorial set-aside from 0.135 to 0.5 percent.
“Her decision is well-justified: Poverty levels in the U.S. territories are three to five times the national average and the price of electricity is two to four times higher. The Commonwealth’s Department of Community and Cultural Affairs, which distributes the LIHEAP funds to eligible households in the Marianas, has said it is working on how the increased benefits will be distributed,” Sablan added.
LIHEAP grants can be used to pay for electricity, make home improvements that save energy, and, in a crisis, prevent service interruptions.
As many as 300 families in the CNMI have, in recent years, received up to $58 in monthly assistance from the federal program.
With the increased LIHEAP grant, the number of CNMI families who are eligible and the monthly aid amount can significantly increase.