Writing and reporting by Jake Brown
Capitol Hill and Advocates from around the nation came together on March 2nd to rally behind LIHEAP National Action Day. Social media plays a continually expanding role for LIHEAP, helping us spread word about how crucial support for this program is and the program’s need for increased funding. Mainstay platforms like Facebook and Twitter showed huge success. We were trending on Twitter because of messages delivered by a coalition, highlighted by personal messages from Congressional members. New York Rep Chris Gibson tweeted from his own, personal handle that, “#LIHEAP is critical to the well-being of our communities. Thanks to the NY advocates here for #LIHEAPAction Day!”
Non-profit advocacy organizations like We Stand for Energy tweeted an energetic announcement to kick the day off: “It’s #LIHEAP Action Day! Take a moment to tell your legislator about this vital program.” They added the important thematic note for the day that “without sufficient #LIHEAP funding, many vulnerable Americans could be at risk this winter.” They elaborated (on their website) on some fundamental, eye-opening LIHEAP facts to support the life-saving difference the program continues to make year after year including:
- Each year, more than 6.5 million households benefit from LIHEAP funding.
- Nearly 75 percent of households that receive LIHEAP funding include a child, senior, or disabled person.
- The average LIHEAP grant is roughly $400 per household.
Administrative costs make up only 10 percent of LIHEAP’s expenditure. The federal government does not decide how LIHEAP funds should be spent in any given state—that decision is left up to the states.
The Energy Equity Alliance reported, via their blog on the ground, “it was a blustery March day in the nation’s capital with wind chills in the 20s—fitting, in a way, for LIHEAP Action Day. As winds gusted to more than 40 mph, supporters of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program braved the chill March 2 to fan out across Capitol Hill for the annual event. This year’s goal was to push for a minimum of $4.7 billion in LIHEAP funding during fiscal 2017. The program has $3.4 billion allocated for the current fiscal year, which runs through September. NRECA interim CEO Jeffrey Connor noted that electric cooperatives serve 93 percent of America’s persistent poverty counties, making co-ops “acutely aware of LIHEAP’s importance” and the need for full funding.”
Many of the country’s most prominent utilities took to their own Twitter and Blog pages to spread the word about Action Day ahead of its arrival. The Alliance for Michigan Power reminded its hundreds of thousands of customers that “this LIHEAP Action Day will help bring attention to the need for providing sufficient energy assistance for Michigan seniors, children and other vulnerable households who struggle to afford heat during Michigan’s frigid winters,” encouraging them to get involved by contacting “your Legislators on LIHEAP Action Day Stay tuned to the Alliance for Michigan Power on Wednesday and we’ll provide you the resources you need to contact your federal legislators and urge them to support increased LIHEAP funding. Thanks again for all you do to support fair, reliable energy for all Michiganders—together, we can ensure low-income Michigan families aren’t left out in the cold!”
Edison Electric trumpeted the program’s praise with their reminder that “for 35 years, #LIHEAP has assisted low-income families & seniors to ease energy burdens,” while adding in another tweet saying, “funding #LIHEAP is essential to provide low-income families w/the ability to meet basic needs.” Columbia Gas of Virginia, through a series of tweets, pushed the hash-tag #LIHEAPAction, and drove home facts like “20% of households receiving #LIHEAP include a veteran. Urge Congress to increase funding” and “Only 1 in 5 eligible for #LIHEAP receive assistance. Congress must increase funding. RT if you agree.”
Other utilities focused their social media outreach on sharing news of high-profile interactions with key Congressional members on Capitol Hill. Entergy Texas did just that following their meeting with Texas Senior U.S. Senator John Cornyn. They declared that “it’s been an amazing #LIHEAP Action Day! Thanks to @JohnCornyn‘s office for learning how LIHEAP helps customers.” Following a meeting with U.S. Senator Blunt Laclede, Gas of St. Louis, MO announced “@RoyBlunt met with advocates today on the Hill during a successful Action Day!” Columbia Gas of VA tweeted out to its customers that “@NIPSCO team met with @RepToddYoung about supporting funding for #LIHEAP energy assistance,” as similar lobbying successes trended across Twitter accounts across the country, reflecting the Universal need the program serves.
Entergy New Orleans proudly reported that the utility’s advocates “had a great meeting with @RepRichmond to discuss #LIHEAP funding to serve more Louisiana customers,” and fellow Louisiana utility Atmos Energy enthusiastically shared the news that “we are at #LIHEAPAction day! Thanks for meeting with us today @GreggHarper & @brettguthrie, we appreciate your time!”
Speaking up for the millions of families throughout the South, Entergy Mississippi blasted out news that they were “having a great meeting with @SenThadCochran to discuss #LIHEAP funding for our state,” staying busy with back-to-back meetings next with Mississippi Congressman Steven Palazzo, reporting in real time that the utility’s representatives had “just wrapped up another meeting on #LIHEAP. TY @CongPalazzo for meeting with us on this important topic.”
Columbia Gas of Ohio gained high-profile access to lobby on LIHEAP’s behalf with Rep. Bob Gibbs, Chairman, T&I Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment; Agriculture Comm, offering the following acknowledgement to the Congressman “for taking the time to talk #LIHEAPAction @RepBobGibbs.” Entergy Arkansas had equal praise for U.S. Senator Cotton, posting a photo along with the tweet, “Entergy Arkansas’ Brady Aldy with @SenTomCotton after meeting with his office on fair #LIHEAP funding.” The utility shared their interaction with the state’s other U.S. Senator that they were “having a great day @JohnBoozman‘s office, discussing LIHEAP funding for low-income customers.”
Overall, it was another amazing experience and successful LIHEAP Action Day. Thank you to everyone who came out to Capitol Hill and who supported the day through social media. Keep fighting the good fight!