The effort is part of the National Fuel Funds Network's LIHEAP Summer Action Day on Capitol Hill. The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, helps American families in need keep their homes cool in the summer and warm in the winter.
Although LIHEAP prioritizes households with seniors, the disabled and preschoolers, veterans and active-duty members of America's military services make up 20 percent of people receiving help from the community action agencies that administer LIHEAP funds. Twenty-three-year-old Dustin Dillard serves in the National Guard and knows how important the program is to his family. He and his wife, Andrea, live in Pangburn, Ark., population 654.
"We were struggling to get on our feet," said the young mother of an 18-month-old son. "A lot of people get discouraged or are ashamed that they need help to pay their power bills, but the people at the Community Action Program of Central Arkansas understood. They were great."
While her husband worked, Andrea Dillard stood in line at CAPCA in Searcy, but other families like the Dillards recently crowded the Arkansas State Fairgrounds at a two-day LIHEAP mass intake event. "Applicant lines were longer than ever," said Jay Hartman, manager of customer operations support for Entergy Arkansas, Inc. "The State's regular LIHEAP funding has already been exhausted, and LIHEAP Crisis grants are running out just as we're in Washington to explain what's happening with low income families here at home."
Current 2012 funding for LIHEAP is $3.47 billion. U.S. House and Senate appropriators have recently endorsed level-funding the program next year, even as poverty is rising to levels not seen since 1965. The measures await further review and votes in Congress.
"Arkansas' 18 percent poverty rate is America's sixth-highest," said Oscar Washington, Entergy Arkansas' director of customer service. "With record heat and a lagging economy, this makes for a critical situation for thousands of our customers," said Washington, a participant in the LIHEAP event.
"So far this summer, Little Rock reached 100 degrees or above a combined 15 days in June and July, and other towns and cities across Arkansas have experienced searing heat," Washington said. "We're doing all we can to help Arkansans meet their utility needs because we know LIHEAP saves lives. People choosing between feeding their families or cooling their homes are faced with choices no American should have to make. And that's why we're engaging our leaders in Congress."
In addition to speaking on behalf of low income customers, Entergy Arkansas employees work on Beat the Heat, a fan give-away program, and The Power to Care, one of the country's oldest funds allowing customers and employees to contribute toward helping low income customers with monthly utility bills. New online tools at entergy.com/savemoney offer customers more control over their electricity usage with interactive virtual tutorials and payment options.
Entergy Arkansas provides electricity to 692,000 customers in 63 counties.