Friday, January 23, 2015

Puerto Rico to receive additional funds for federal low income energy assistance

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is allocating a total of $15,095,302 to Puerto Rico in Fiscal Year 2015 under the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), known locally as Programa de Subsidio de Energia, which is administered by the Puerto Rico Department of the Family and which helps households pay their electricity bills.

Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi announced that this is an $11 million increase above the $3.9 million that Puerto Rico received just two years ago in Fiscal Year 2013. As a result of Pierluisi’s efforts, HHS took administrative action to increase the amount of annual LIHEAP funding provided to Puerto Rico and the other territories, beginning in Fiscal Year 2014. Over the next decade, this increase will inject $110 million into Puerto Rico’s economy. 
Under the old formula, approximately 65,000 households in Puerto Rico received assistance under LIHEAP.  With the increased funding, the Puerto Rico government should now be in a position to reduce monthly energy bills for about 250,000 island households.
“Puerto Rico has always been treated unequally under LIHEAP, receiving less than it would if it were a state. In the 1981 federal law that created LIHEAP, Congress directed HHS to allocate each year, for the five territories to share, no less than 0.10 percent and no more than 0.50 percent of the total LIHEAP appropriation,” said Pierluisi.
“According to the law, the percentage annually allocated by HHS is supposed to be determined on the basis of need in the territories. However, since the inception of LIHEAP, HHS had provided exactly 0.135 percent for the territories each year, which is just barely above the minimum level authorized by law. As a result, many families in Puerto Rico received less assistance than similarly-situated families in the 50 states, or no assistance at all,” added the Resident Commissioner.
In 2011, Pierluisi began an effort to persuade HHS to increase the funding provided to the territories to the maximum amount allowed under law—0.50 percent—in light of multiple factors, including the high cost of electricity in these island jurisdictions, where residents pay at least twice the national average.
This effort was successful. In late 2013, HHS notified Pierluisi that the agency had completed its review of his request, and that Puerto Rico and the other territories would receive 0.50 percent going forward. 
“HHS acknowledged that, given the level of need, Puerto Rico and the other territories have been significantly underfunded under LIHEAP as compared to the states, and that a funding increase was therefore justified,” said Pierluisi.


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