By Clarence Hightower
The Anti-Poverty Soldier
Executive Director, Community Action Partnership of Ramsey & Washington Counties
Last winter, a local man found himself needing financial assistance for the first time in his A tumultuous economy forced him to close the family businesses which had dutifully served St. Paul neighborhoods for more than 80 years. As his life savings dwindled away, he returned to the home where he grew up to care for his ailing mother. Struggling to keep up with the utility bills, this man was now in fear of losing his childhood home and turned to Community Action Partnership of Ramsey & Washington Counties for help.
He immediately qualified for the Energy Assistance Program, which helped pay for his heating costs and Community Action Partnership of Ramsey & Washington Counties performed a free energy audit on the home. The audit revealed that the furnace was in dire need of replacement and the home at serious risk of increasing carbon monoxide levels. To the man’s great amazement and appreciation, a new furnace was installed at no cost to him, to which he remarked “this program not only saved my home, but most likely my life as well.”
Since 1991, when it was first proclaimed by the United States Department of Energy, the month of October is recognized as National Energy Awareness Month. Generally, when we think of the issue of energy awareness it is in terms of conservation, sustainable energy strategies and new and innovative energy sources. In fact The White House defines National Energy Awareness Month, as “a national effort to underscore how central energy is to our national prosperity, security and environmental well-being.” I believe it is without question that these things are true and critical to the health of America and the world.
Nevertheless, the issue of energy awareness also assumes another form, particularly in a state that is known for its brutal and unforgiving winters. In addition to energy efficiency, one of the most fundamental issues is ensuring that our most vulnerable populations, particularly low-income households with children and/or elderly residents, are protected from the bitter elements during Minnesota’s winter months. Fortunately, Community Action Partnership of Ramsey & Washington Counties, along with other energy assistance providers throughout Minnesota and the nation, are able to address both of these issues: energy conservation and keeping low-income citizens safe and warm in their homes – not only from October through April but year round.
Last year for example, Community Action Partnership of Ramsey & Washington Counties received more than 25,000 applications for Energy Assistance, approving grants to nearly 23,000 homes during the winter of 2013-2014. Through this effort, our agency distributed approximately $11 million to local energy providers helping eligible low-income families pay a portion of their energy costs. Of course, this data only represents Ramsey and Washington counties as Minnesota’s other Community Action agencies and their Energy Assistance programs also make an indelible impact throughout the state
In addition to keeping families safe and warm, energy assistance programs provide clients with vital information on safe and efficient practices for using energy. Furthermore, all families that participate in energy assistance are eligible to receive energy conservation and weatherization services. Energy Conservation programs, such as the one at Community Action Partnership of Ramsey & Washington Counties provide low-income families with free energy audits, new insulation, weatherstripping and other energy efficient and money saving services. As was the case with the gentleman referenced above, Energy Conservation also assists participants with furnace and other mechanical systems repair and replacement.
In the last 30 years, Community Action Partnership of Ramsey & Washington Counties’ Energy Conservation Program has weatherized nearly 14,000 home throughout our service area. Collectively, both Energy Assistance and Energy Conservation play a huge role in helping low-income families keep up with their energy bills, save money by making better and more efficient choices, decrease their ecological footprint, and maintain a safe and healthy home.
If you or someone you know is in need of Energy Assistance, applications are now available throughout the State of Minnesota. Applications are distributed on a first come, first served basis and eligible households must be at or below 50% of the state median income. If you live in Ramsey or Washington Counties, you can obtain an application by calling (651) 645-6470 or online at www.caprw.org/community-action-services/energy-assistance/. Those residing in other Minnesota counties should call the Minnesota Energy Assistance Hotline at 1-800-675-3710 to identify the energy assistance providers in their area.