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Archives for Heating Aid (page 1 / 1)

Heating Aid, The Right Way

Last year I was extremely critical of Governor Doyle's plan to increase heating aid for poor Wisconsin residents. This year, I'm still critical of the state's heating aid program.

I'm certainly not opposed to helping my poor neighbors. In fact, I don't really think I have much of a choice in the matter.

[esvbible reference="Matthew 25:34-40" header="on" format="block"]Matthew 25:34-40[/esvbible]

But I want my assistance to be precisely targeted, I want it to help those who need the most help, and I want to give it myself -- not have it taken from me by an overbearing government. That's why I was glad to find Alliant Energy's Hometown Care Energy Fund.

Through the Hometown Care Energy Fund, Alliant Energy offers free, confidential financial help for the elderly, disabled and families trying to make ends meet.

Hometown Care Energy Fund is supported by Alliant Energy and its many caring customers, employees and shareowners.

When you give to Hometown Care, your donation goes directly to neighbors in need in your area, with funds administered by local community action programs.

In 2006, more than 1,699 families received an average grant of nearly $248. Your generous contributions of $244,000 helped share the warmth with those who needed it the most.

Their description of the program didn't offer the kind of information I was really interested in, so I asked some questions.

  1. How much of the funds collected funds are paid to community groups? 100%? Or does Alliant Energy keep some of the funds as administrative fees? Alliant Energy distributes 100% of the donations to agencies, but allows the agencies in WI to use up to 6% of the funds for administrative purposes.

  2. Does Alliant keep track on exactly how the community groups use the money? Do they use 100% of the money for heating aid or do they keep some of it as administrative fees? Besides the up to 6% used for administrative purposes, the rest is distributed as agencies see fit for heating aid.

  3. The website says "your donation goes directly to neighbors in need in your area". How big is the local "area"? I live in the Village of Oregon, in Dane County, Wisconsin. Is the money I donate disbursed to community groups in Oregon, in Dane County, in Southern Wisconsin, or in the entire state of Wisconsin? The area is by county. A donation from Oregon would go to Energy Services Inc of Dane County.

  4. The site says that "A customer's payment history may also play an important part in selection for a Hometown Care Energy Fund grant." Does this mean that customers with a solid record of payment -- who suddenly fall behind -- are preferred over customers who habitually don't pay their bills. Yes, agencies take this into account in awarding their grants.

  5. Finally, does the program encourage customers to economize on other areas of finance before receiving grants? For instance, if a customer was paying for cable television but unable to pay their energy bill, would they first be encouraged to cancel cable before receiving grants? Yes, the reason we use the agencies we do to distribute the funds is the often first take an Energy Assistance application from the customer which may provide them some state aid. Second they may discuss with them their income and expenses. Last these funds are there to help them if needed.

I hate cold weather with a passion and am very grateful for on-demand heat. I can't stand the thought that some of my neighbors might be cold because I was too stingy to help them out. Now that weather is getting frigid, we're donating money to the Fund each month.

As we approach Thanksgiving and you think about your blessings, this is a great way to share your wealth with those less fortunate.

Heating Assistance

It must be an election year. Wisconsin Republicans indicated that they would work with Governor Doyle on a heating bill. Quick recap: Republicans hold a majority in both the state Assembly and the state Senate. Governor Doyle peremptorily summoned the legislature into session after the Republicans had previously refused to increase state heating aid. I have a few questions I'd like to ask about this plan.

Doyle wants to set aside $6 million from an environmental cleanup fund to offer one-time heating assistance to people who do not currently qualify for aid. Some 30,000 families would qualify for $200 to $300 dollars apiece, Doyle's office estimates. The Republicans agreed to work with Doyle after the governor last week called for a special session of the Legislature on Tuesday to take up his plan, which would expand eligibility to a family of four with an income lower than $40,000.

How were these numbers arrived at? How many people four-member families with an income lower than $40,000 are there? How many of them desperately need this aid? How much heat does the Governor want to pay for? A passable 68 degrees or a balmy 75 degrees? One is necessary, one is simply extravagant. Does the Governor's plan take this into account? Is this a true necessity or simply a vote-buying effort by a Governor desperate for good news? Will this money really be taken from the environmental cleanup fund or will Doyle later use the environmental cleanup fund as an excuse to raise taxes further?

Families "are left to worry for another week about how to pay the bills and whether they'll have to choose between heating and eating," [Governor Doyle] said at a news conference.

This statement is extremely misleading. Wisconsin law prohibits heating companies from cutting off the heat if citizens are unable to pay their bills. People can catch up on their bills during the cheaper summer months. If paying large bills during the winter is a worry, most utility companies allow people to pay on a "budget plan" that distributes the payments evenly throughout the entire year. No citizen of Wisconsin need to choose between heating and eating. If money is tight, the state allows them to choose eating now and worry about the heating bills later.

The eligibility expansion could help people such as Deanna Topper of Mount Horeb, a single working mother who was denied heating assistance last year. Topper, a case manager for a social services agency, said her heating bill had doubled since that time and any state aid "would be a huge relief."

I am sure it would be huge relief if the state would help. I would consider it a huge relief if the state of Wisconsin would help pay for my cable bill. That doesn't mean that the state needs to pay for Ms. Topper's bills.

Actually, I wonder if Ms. Topper has cable television? I don't know if she does or not, but let's hypothesize that she does -- just as a thought experiment. If so, I would argue that the state is subsidizing her cable bills. By helping to pay for her heat, they would be allowing her to spend her own money on a cable subscription. I'm not sure what the rates in Mount Horeb are, but here in Madison I would have to spend $45 a month to get cable television. Over the course of a winter, that would be a cool $225. If Wisconsin is determined to give people another $200-300 a month, they should force people to choose between cable television and heating, to pinpoint just one luxury that 62% of all Americans enjoy.

Fitzgerald, co-chairman of the Legislature's budget committee, said he also questioned spending $6 million more because the state and federal government are already spending a record $80 million to help the poor in Wisconsin pay their heating bills this year.

This has been one of the mildest winters on record for Wisconsin. We're already spending a record amount of money to pay for heating bills. A record amount of money in a year that has been very mild. Why do we need to spend even more money on heating? Keep in mind that no one will have their heat cut off this winter. No one will freeze to death if we don't spend this money. Why is it so urgent that we spend it now? Why are Wisconsin's Republicans so eager to help the governor spend even more money?