August is the month we celebrate and elevate the work of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). For LIHEAP Action Month this year, I sat down with the Executive Director of the National Energy and Utility Affordability Coalition (NEUAC), Katrina Metzler to chat a little about what the work of LIHEAP means, her experiences, and the road ahead.
We sit down one afternoon and fire up our teams apps to meet. If you haven’t had a chance to meet Katrina, you’re missing out; it’s easy to talk to her, she has a calming presence, she thinks deeply about questions and is quick to smile. After more than six years at the helm of NEUAC, she spills facts and figures about LIHEAP easily.
As a block grant LIHEAP is incredibly flexible and this is one of the beautiful things about this funding stream. This flexibility allows states and communities to use LIHEAP funds in the most appropriate ways according to their needs. National data shows that three out of ten households receiving LIHEAP used their kitchen stove to heat their home at some point in the last year and nine in ten LIHEAP households include a person vulnerable to temperature extremes because of age or disability. The impact of LIHEAP is also clear – 27,000 children were lifted out of poverty in 2020 because of LIHEAP. These are a few facts and figures that Katrina highlighted and many more are in the talking points link below (sources are noted there too). LIHEAP changes the lives of its recipients and as the mother of a “LIHEAP family” herself, Katrina has personally experiences what it is like to be energy insecure.
Katrina hails from Ohio, the Buckeye State, and that is where she first learned about LIHEAP. As a young mother, still nursing one baby, Katrina’s family experienced the type of medical and personal hardship that drives many families to request assistance. Spread thin, she reached out for help and found her local Community Action Agency. With great clarity, she recalls the humbling process of asking for help, navigating unfamiliar systems, and the trauma that can come with it. The universal truths that emerge from her story: navigating systems is challenging, and we all need help some time, no matter how bitter a pill that is to swallow.
Having walked in clients’ shoes, Katrina brings this experience to bear through her work at NEUAC. She says, “I try to stay really grounded and make sure that I bring practical wisdom to the room…I still feel that (client) voice inside me.” She goes on to note that “being able to see [issues of energy poverty] from both sides of the desk is critical to being able to develop good policies to address the challenges that families experience at home every day.” NEUAC performs this work by elevating clients’ voices through LIHEAP Action Day in February, bringing the many various stakeholders together at the annual conference, and promoting the program and education communities during LIHEAP Action Month in August.
As we move through LIHEAP Action Month, NASCSP wants to share the useful resources that NEUAC offered. You can find them at http://neuac.org/advocacy. Please feel free to utilize the resources for outreach, social media, and any other places they might help elevate the work of LIHEAP.
Thank you and great big shout out to Katrina and our partners in energy affordability at NEUAC! HAPPY LIHEAP ACTION MONTH TO ALL!