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Low-income families struggling with utility bills can find help through LIHEAP and weatherization

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Posted: Wednesday, July 27, 2011 7:25 am | Updated: 7:26 am, Wed Jul 27, 2011.

Programs lead to lasting changes that increase energy efficiency

Help is available for low-income families and individuals across Arizona struggling with summer utility bills pushed higher by desert temperatures above 110 degrees and major dust storms.

The Arizona Community Action Association (ACAA), through its member Community Action Agencies statewide, offers assistance to qualifying individuals and families through programs including the federally-funded Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), the federal weatherization program and the locally-funded Arizona Home Energy Assistance Fund.

LIHEAP and the Arizona Home Energy Assistance Program provide bill assistance for low-income families who may be spending up to 30 percent of their income to pay for energy costs.

"The situation for low-income families and individuals is further complicated by the fact that much of the housing they can afford is not energy efficient, which means they're paying even more to cover their energy costs because of problems like air leaks and poorly operating air conditioning systems," said ACAA Executive Director Cynthia Zwick. "Weatherization programs offer homeowners and renters services and programs to repair the problems that ultimately reduce their energy bills and create more energy efficient and safer living spaces."

Individuals can determine their eligibility for both LIHEAP and the Arizona Home Energy Assistance Program by visiting www.azcaa.org or www.arizonaselfhelp.org.

In addition, Arizona utility companies offer a variety of programs to assist customers manage their utility bills. Programs range from discount and conservation programs to bill assistance. Visit www.azcaa.org or www.arizonaselfhelp.org for more information.

Information about qualifying for weatherization assistance also is available on the ACAA website or by visiting www.weatherization.azcaa.org.

The U.S. Department of Energy's Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) helps weatherize more than 100,000 homes nationwide each year to reduce annual energy costs by an average of $437 per household that saves more than 24 million barrels of oil.

More than 6,400 Arizona homes have been weatherized through federal weatherization stimulus funding that has helped reduce energy bills and keep people in their homes.

Eligibility for utility assistance and weatherization is based on income and documentation is required.

Unfortunately, funding for both LIHEAP and weatherization is facing severe cuts by Congress as debate surrounding budget deficits continues. Decisions affecting the future of both programs are expected before the end of the summer.

"This is not an easy time for many, many people who are out of work through no fault of their own, underemployed or looking for jobs, let alone for those who are making potentially life-affecting decisions for low-income individuals and families because of budget challenges," Zwick said. "But this is not the time for those of us who can make a difference to be silent. The people who can least afford the proposed budget cuts need our help, and I guarantee that everyone in this country knows someone either out of work or in desperate financial condition.

"We must, as citizens, neighbors, friends and family stand up and let our voices be heard by contacting elected officials and urging them not to make decisions that impact the most vulnerable."

For information about which elected officials to contact, visit www.senate.gov or www.house.gov.

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