Community Advocates, Entergy Employees Seek Sustained Funding To Help Low-Income Customers in Need Pay Energy Costs

Allison B. Hudson

Entergy Louisiana, LLCand Entergy Gulf States Louisiana, L.L.C.employees and advocates for low-income residents are in Washington, D.C., this week to ask Congress for funding to help low-income families, the elderly and the disabled pay energy costs through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).

On Feb. 9, Entergy Louisiana employees and nonprofit group representatives will be among more than 140 advocates from across the country participating in the National Fuel Funds Network’s Washington Action Day for LIHEAP. EntergyLouisianaemployees are there as part of their ongoing commitment to help low-income customers. LIHEAP is America's primary tool to help working-poor families pay for home energy costs, especially those families with preschoolers, elderly or disabled members.

“Congress understandably wants to address deficit spending, so we want to make sure our congressional representatives recognize the important role LIHEAP plays in helping their constituents avoid slipping further down the economic ladder and into more costly assistance programs,” said Patty Riddlebarger, director of social corporate responsibility for Entergy Corporation. “Over the last three years, our community partners have reported more and more first-time LIHEAP applicants, virtually all victims of an economy that is clearly recovering, but without creating enough jobs. Congress needs to sustain a safety net for those caught in this economic tragedy, and level-funding LIHEAP is a critical part of that effort.”

“This is no time to cut that net for people struggling to survive,” said Bill Mohl, president and chief executive office of Entergy’s Louisiana utilities. “We believe funding for LIHEAP should, at a minimum, stay at $5.1 billion for this fiscal year and next. Anything less will force thousands of legislators’ constituents to choose between keeping the heat and lights on or buying food or medicine. That isn’t a choice anyone should face in today’s America.”

LIHEAP funding for FY 2011 is currently operating on an annualized rate of $5.1 billion, but the funding is only assured through March 4.The program needs an additional $1 billion this year to be fully funded.

“By keeping funding at $5.1 billion in 2011, and at least that amount in 2012, Congress can ensure states like Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas receive a reasonably fair share of LIHEAP funding. The need is so great, and as it is, LIHEAP only reaches one in five American households eligible to receive it," Riddlebarger said. "Some have proposed to return programs like LIHEAP to 2008 levels.This would be a tragic outcome for these states and the at-risk households within them."

If LIHEAP were cut to 2008 budget levels, Louisiana would see a 67 percent cut in LIHEAP funding. This would mean cutting an estimated 50,000 families from the program.

“LIHEAP is not an entitlement. It’s a true safety net, primarily for the most at-risk groups – the very old, very ill and very young,” said Mohl. “Most LIHEAP recipients only receive help once, and 30 percent have never gotten assistance before. Any cut in LIHEAP funding would hurt citizens who don’t have the means to keep the heat and lights on – for many, for the first time in their lives.”

Entergy’s Louisiana utility companies serve more than one million customers through the operating companies Entergy Louisiana, LLC and Entergy Gulf States Louisiana, L.L.C. With operations in southern, central and northeastern Louisiana, the companies are part of Entergy Corporation’s electric system serving 2.7 million customers in Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi and Texas.