Marianas Variety — (Office of the CNMI Congressional Delegate) - U.S. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan announced Wednesday that fiscal year 2017 federal energy assistance funds for low income families have been released, including $189,544 for the Northern Mariana Islands.
The funds are distributed by the Commonwealth Department of Community and Cultural Affairs to help more than 400 NMI households pay part of their monthly utility bills.
“Many families continue to struggle to pay for water and electricity,” Sablan said. “These basic services remain very expensive in the Marianas.
“But this federal assistance helps keep the lights on.”
Funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, was much lower for the Marianas when Congressman Sablan first came into office. The secretary of Health and Human Services had authority to set aside 0.5 percent of the national program money solely for the insular areas. But only 0.135 percent was being allocated for the islands.
Sablan began the effort to raise the energy assistance in 2011. Working with other insular area delegates, Sablan argued that with electricity costs for island households as much as four times the national average and with the need for cooling stretching year round, the Secretary should use all the authority she had to provide LIHEAP funds to the islands.
In 2014, then-Secretary Kathleen Sebelius made the decision to quadruple the island funding to the maximum allowable.
As a result, the Department of Community and Cultural Affairs was able to raise the monthly assistance to each household and increase the number of families in the Marianas eligible for the federal aid. According to DCCA, the average monthly assistance per household is about $41. In fiscal 2016, LIHEAP helped 456 families in the Marianas.
Today’s release of funds only represents 90 percent of the full year funding, because Congress has not yet made appropriations for all of fiscal 2017. Annual funding for LIHEAP and most other federal programs and departments is expected to be appropriated when Congress returns to work after the November 8 election.