Florida program to help low-income families with utilities runs out of funds

'It’s an important program, it’s something people rely on, so I would hope the Legislature wouldn’t let them hang out to dry.'

A state-run program using federal money to help low-income residents pay utility bills ran out of funding authority. And although state officials are working to solve the issue, operators of the nonprofits who administer the program fear the people they serve will suffer.

“I’m going to have to lay off staff and I can’t provide services to clients,” said Tim Center, CEO of the Capital Area Community Action Agency, a Tallahassee-based group that uses grants to help low-income residents pay bills.

On April 7, Center’s group and 29 others across the state received a letter from Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) Deputy Secretary for Community Development Benjamin Melnick saying the agency had run out of budget authority for four programs: the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), the Low-Income Household Water Assistance Program (LIHWAP), the Weatherization Assistance Program and the Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) program.

The programs provide help to low-income families for heating and cooling costs, water costs, upgrades to make homes energy efficient and a variety of anti-poverty services including emergency health, housing and job counseling aid.

The effort usually receives $86.1 million per year, which usually handles all expenses. But this year its funding authority dwindled to $3.5 million by January.

Lawmakers on the Joint Legislative Budget Commission approved a DEO request in February for another $49.6 million in funding authority for the programs in February. But those projections were outpaced by a surge in demand for the program and higher energy costs.

“With an unprecedented demand for services this year due to inflation, Hurricane Ian, wildfires and other disasters, DEO is reaching its limit for available funds in three programs,” DEO spokeswoman Rose Hebert wrote in an email. “We are in no way holding back funding and we continue to work with Community Action Agencies to provide services for Floridians.”

Center estimates his group serves about 1,000 people per month. If he doesn’t receive funds, he can’t provide services until the next fiscal year, which starts July 1.

“I would have to dip into all of our reserves and our line of credit until we were able to recover funds from the state,” Center said. “The reality is I can’t make it that far. I would have to furlough staff.”

But DEO officials and lawmakers say they are working on a way to open up more funding authority for the programs.

“I am happy to help support the effort to ensure that needed services are received by Floridians. I am engaged with DEO and appropriations staff to secure sufficient budget authority to meet the unprecedented demand,” Sen. Corey Simon, a Tallahassee Republican, posted on Twitter on Tuesday.

Last week, Simon sent a letter to Senate budget chief Sen. Doug Broxson, a Gulf Breeze Republican, urging him to expand funding authority for the programs.

Lawmakers can insert more budget authority for DEO into the budget they are currently negotiating. Although the budget year doesn’t begin until July 1, they can approve more funding for the programs in the current fiscal year. But the programs won’t receive the funds until Gov. Ron DeSantis signs the budget, which likely won’t be until mid-May at the earliest and could be as late as mid-June.

Still, lawmakers are confident they’ll get money flowing to the programs soon.

“It’s an important program, it’s something people rely on, so I would hope the Legislature wouldn’t let them hang out to dry,” said Sen. Blaise Ingoglia, a Spring Hill Republican who has also been working to get more funding for the program.

Gray Rohrer


  • Andrew Linko

    April 20, 2023 at 10:53 am

    Of course it did, maybe if the bills that poor residents couldn’t pay said ‘Disney’ on them, the Governor would act like Mickey Mouse and help?

  • Family Values Flunky Bill McSewer

    April 20, 2023 at 11:50 am

    Make utilities state owned… and you can save everyone massive amounts of money on utilities. Some things shouldn’t be a money making opportunity for executives and other hangers on. That and the state could fund solar and other energy sources for homes and cut bills in half at least. Like for highspeed rail though, they don’t want to tax and spend. Everything has to be some private money making opportunity for someone.

  • David T. Hawkins

    April 20, 2023 at 11:55 am

    Just curious, how much of those $Millions do the Nonprofits take?

  • Andrew Linko

    April 20, 2023 at 12:12 pm

    Very important, but the legislature was supposed to resolve bad roofing contractors, but instead gave tax dollars to the companies that are and continue to overcharge us, insurance. But as long as the lobbyists keep writing the checks for their campaigns, nothing in Florida will change!

  • SAM

    April 20, 2023 at 1:40 pm

    Maybe they should review the policy of what amount they help the families with, so they will be able to help more families and the money will stretch further. For example, helping with the exact bill amount and not an exuberant amount over the bill. Offer classes to help with money management. So many people do not know how to prioritize or budget.

  • Linda Brooke

    April 20, 2023 at 2:21 pm

    Florida needs another stimulus relief package can the governor not see that the people in Florida are not making it they haven’t caught up from covid and the hurricanes they need help.

  • gloriajame

    April 20, 2023 at 2:36 pm

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  • Asmide Joseph

    April 20, 2023 at 4:24 pm

    They need to low down the utilities and rent, gas, food for the low-income people for the struggle we are facing and we can buy nothing for are self and are children, we are stuffing because of this in we pray to are father and heaven for help we need help in Jesus name 🙏 amen

  • HDavis

    April 20, 2023 at 6:32 pm

    It’s disturbing agencies continue to help low income. What about people with income, get up everyday report to work and struggle with Bill too

  • Andrew Linko

    April 20, 2023 at 10:53 pm

    Because they have done a great job of keeping insurance rates down for all Florida citizens!

  • LMarshall

    April 21, 2023 at 1:48 pm

    Floridians get exactly what you vote for..privatization of all social services and education and a big nothing from republicans who now own it all..especially the lack of a social or moral conscious and no empathy for those they help regulate into poverty.. It’s just good business!! And they would rather interfere in your personal life than do good business for its residents !!
    But they will take your federal taxes and claim it’s their economic glory!’

  • Andrew Linko

    April 21, 2023 at 11:55 pm

    Amen, Freedom, is now spelled Freedumb, thanks to the GOP!

Comments are closed.


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