Home heating assistance on chopping block with budget cuts

Gov. Bill Walker’s proposed budget, released Dec. 9, would cut just over $9 million dollars in home heating subsidies for low-income Alaskans by eliminating the Alaska Heating Assistance Program.

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For some, with winter snow comes financial stress over heating bills. CREDIT CLARK FAIR via KDLG.org.
For some, with winter snow comes financial stress over heating bills.
CREDIT CLARK FAIR via KDLG.org.

About 800 households throughout the Bristol Bay region receive government assistance with heating their homes each year.

While the majority of those are funded by the federal Low Income Energy Assistance Program, roughly 150 households are served through the state (Alaska Heating Assistance) program.

Rae Belle Whitcomb is the director of workforce development at the Bristol Bay Native Association, which administers both federal and state heating assistance for the region.

“Well, it takes a single application to apply for services, and depending on what income level that the household qualifies under, it determines what pocket of funding we use to provide the benefit. So the federal poverty guidelines serve households with income levels from 0 to 151 percent of the federal poverty guidelines, and the state of Alaska program serves from 151 percent of poverty up to 252 percent of federal poverty.”

The poverty guidelines go by household size. A single person qualifies for the state program if they make between $22,000 and $33,000 a year. A family of four can get state heating help if their household income is more than $45,500 and less than $68,200 per year.

So while there will still be federal funds for the poorest households, Whitcomb says the governor’s proposal to cut the Alaska Heating Assistance Program would leave a whole segment of the population without subsidized heating:

“The biggest impact is that people need to plan wisely. You know, with the state dividends, it was really important that people actually pay down on their utility bills and not expect that this heating assistance program is going to cover the full year’s utilities. It will never be funded at those levels, so just be wise. Do some energy efficient improvements around your home, put up some weather stripping, change out inefficient heaters… do small things that can actually make a big difference on their utility bills.”

The governor’s plan, which includes about $100 million in spending cuts, is just the first step in the budget cycle. Lawmakers will have a chance to make their own plans when the legislative session begins in January.