Low-income Washington households can use federal funds to get air conditioning

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An existing federal program that could have helped tens of thousands of low-income Washington state households acquire air conditioning during the heatwave, but which has not been used, is now being expanded.

At least 138 people died from heat-related causes during the historic weather event, according to the State Department of Health. Low-income households and people living on the streets and in substandard housing have been hit the hardest.

Although Washington State receives more than $ 60 million per year from a federal program to help pay utility bills, the state has so far only made these funds available for the heating, not for cooling.

Now that is changing. According to the state Department of Commerce – which distributes federal dollars through the Low Income Housing Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) to 77,000 households statewide – Washington will now allow these funds. federal officials pay for air conditioning units, repair or replace defective units, and energy bills, the agency said in a press release Tuesday.

No funds have yet been spent on cooling, a state spokesperson told The Olympian on Wednesday, and the expansion will not begin until October 1.

The federal government does not limit how LIHEAP funds can be spent. But across the country, heating is what states have spent the most LIHEAP dollars on. Eighteen states are now using federal money to provide cooling assistance, but that’s just 6% of spending.

“There was no ban on cooling, it just wasn’t included in the Washington state program,” the state spokesperson wrote in an email. “Until recently, our climate dictated that the primary use of program funds was for heating assistance.”

Eligibility is limited to households representing up to 150% of the federal poverty line, or $ 39,750 for a family of four.

Oregon, which had a similar policy, changed it in 2015, according to an article in E&E News. Other states restrict how funds can be spent in another way: New York will help pay for the purchase and installation of an AC unit, but it won’t pay utility bills, reported the point of sale.

Overall funding for the LIHEAP program has declined over the past 12 years, from $ 5.1 billion to $ 3.7 billion.

More information about the LIHEAP program and how to apply is available at www.commerce.wa.gov or by calling 360-725-2857.


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