Testimony at Public Hearing on LIHEAP Presented by Carol Goertzel, President/CEO of PathWaysPA August 25, 2009
Thank you for allowing us to testify today. My name is Carol Goertzel, and I am President and CEO of PathWaysPA, an agency that has been committed to keeping families together and providing both advocacy and services to and on behalf of at-risk children, teens, women, and families for over thirty years. We work directly with over 6,000 individuals each year.
Based on our experiences, we know that families are struggling every day to make ends meet, and the struggle has only been getting harder during this recession. We ask today that you reconsider the decision to reduce LIHEAP benefits and shorten the season so drastically.
Our request is based on the needs in Pennsylvania shown through our interactions with clients on a day-to-day basis as well as the findings in several of our studies, including The Self-Sufficiency Standard for Pennsylvania and Overlooked and Undercounted: Struggling to Make Ends Meet in Pennsylvania.
In the past year, PathWays PA has been able to offer emergency grants to clients in need through funding from the United Way. In recent months, we have noticed a sharp increase in requests for funding related to utility payments. More than half of the requests we fund in Philadelphia are related to utility payments. In Delaware County, where we do not have access to emergency grants, we receive 2-3 calls daily from people in need of utility help.
Our research supports what we see from our clients. Throughout the state, PathWays PA is best known for The Self-Sufficiency Standard of Pennsylvania, a yardstick that takes into consideration the real costs families face to maintain self-sufficiency. Since these costs vary throughout the state, we have calculated the needs of families in all 67 counties, and adjusted the costs accordingly based on family size and configuration.
Since 2001, costs as measured by the Standard have increased by 34%. Median income, meanwhile, has only increased by 1% when adjusted for inflation. In Philadelphia today, the Self-Sufficiency Standard shows that a family of two adults, one preschooler, and one schoolage child needs to earn $53,611 to make ends meet. In Delaware County, that same family would need $61,593 to be self-sufficient.
Although this wage only covers the necessities, it is still beyond the reach of many Pennsylvanians. As shown in our recent study, Overlooked and Undercounted, 21 percent of all Pennsylvania households live below the Self-Sufficiency Standard. In Philadelphia County, 32.7 percent of families live below the Standard, and in Delaware County, 21.9 percent live below the Standard.
This is not just a problem in Philadelphia, as you can see:
When families are struggling to make ends meet, they must make difficult choices: should they buy food, or pay the electric bill? Purchase their medicine, or send in their rent check? These are the decisions that many families, including working families, are faced with each day. With LIHEAP, families can be sure that one of the most important services, heating, will remain during the winter, allowing them to focus on food and other essentials. Without LIHEAP, many may choose cold housing or unsafe heating systems so they can pay their rent or medical bills.
Under the changes proposed for LIHEAP, many families will not be able to receive all of the help they need to pay for their utilities. By limiting the income of households who can apply to 150% of the Federal Poverty Level, the LIHEAP guidelines prevent those struggling but earning more than $33,075 per year (for a family of four) from applying. Families throughout the state need to earn a minimum of 182% of the FPL in order to make ends meet.
By shortening the LIHEAP season, those families who are new to the program (such as the newly unemployed) may not have time to learn of the service and apply for it. Families who stretch their incomes to the last penny before applying will also lose out on the opportunity to pay their bills. Meanwhile, families whose utility service has already been turned off will have to wait even longer to receive LIHEAP so they can have their heat turned back on.
While we do not yet know how much funding for LIHEAP will come from the federal government, since the federal appropriation grew by $0.7 billion, it is likely that the state appropriation will grow as well. We understand this is a difficult time for our state and our nation, but that is all the more reason why families should be able to turn to LIHEAP for heating during the coming winter. Please make LIHEAP available and accessible to families this winter so that they can make it through safely and securely.