Native Sun News: Tribal members get less heat assistance funds
The following story was written and reported by Ernestine Chasing Hawk . All content © Native Sun News.

PIERRE, SOUTH DAKOTA –– Where you live in South Dakota can make a difference in how much you receive in Low Income Energy Assistance. If you live on an Indian reservation and are a member of a tribe you may be receiving as much as $1,000 less than a household of the same size living off the reservation.

Even more disturbing is that a nonmember living next door to you on the reservation may get as much as $1,000 more than a member in LIEAP benefits.

Chantelle and Camilla Blue Arm are sisters and both members of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. Last winter Chantelle was living in Sioux Falls and Camilla was living in Eagle Butte on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation.

Chantelle was working at Applebee’s with an income of about $1600 a month. Camilla was receiving $342 in General Assistance (G.A.).

Both sisters applied for LIEAP last winter. However Chantelle a single adult with no children received $1050 in LIEAP and Camilla with a household of four received $450 in CRST LIEAP.

“If it wasn’t for LIEAP I wouldn’t have had money for anything else because my heat was almost three hundred a month throughout the winter. Most of my money would have been going to my bills,” Chantelle said.

Chantelle received her LIEAP in mid-December but Camilla had to wait until the end of January because the CRST LIEAP monies were on hold because of noncompliance, nearly causing the program to retrocede back to the state.

More alarming was that the LIEAP Office was closed during a winter ice storm that had hit the area snapping thousands of power poles causing a black out leaving people without heat.

Last winter Tamara LaPlant, who is not a tribal member but married to CRST tribal member Doug LaPlant and lives just down the road from Camilla Blue Arm on Dupree Street, applied for LIEAP and received about $1,200 in benefits.

“I feel bad sometimes because I wish they would distribute it more evenly. Some people get only $200 and people use propane to heat up their water and that $200 can get used up easily in one month. I got that much just because I am a nontribal member,” Tamara said.

According to County Data for the SD LIEAP the average household expenditure for Dewey County was $1,440 for 78 nonmember households.

“I don’t know what is going on but I think it’s wrong. The Indians are getting kind of cheated out of money. The tribal members should get the same or more than other people. I think they (tribal members) are only getting like a couple hundred in LIEAP,” Doug LaPlant said.

When Judy Brown, step mother-in-law of Doug and Tamara LaPlant found out how much more benefits you could get through State LIEAP she tried to submit an application. Brown was turned down and told that because she was a tribal member she had to apply through the tribal program.

Last year Brown said she received about $380 in CRST LIEAP benefits.

“Sometimes my electricity bill is more than $300 a month,” Brown said. “I live on $500 a month and where am I supposed to get money for clothes. My grandson needs some new tennis shoes and my bills this month are more than $500.”

“Most tribes in South Dakota administer their own LIEAP programs and receive their funding directly from the federal government and do not need state approval for how they run their program. Thus, the state does not know how each tribe sets its income or benefit levels,” Emily Currey the Public Relations Officer for South Dakota LIEAP said.

According to the LIEAP Clearinghouse Website, the federal government appropriates monies on a per capita basis and it is then dispersed as a block grant to states with set asides for tribes.

Seven of the nine tribes in South Dakota administer their own programs. Two of the tribes, the Flandreau Santee and Crow Creek Sioux Tribes allow members to apply directly through the state.

However, five of the seven South Dakota reservations that get direct funding are in the top 10 list for poorest counties in the nation. So on a per capita basis more people on the reservation are eligible for LIEAP, each receiving a smaller piece of the pie.

Example: The state gets $100 for 100 households and 5 eligible households apply, each household would receive $20 in LIEAP.

Each tribe gets the same amount on a per capita basis, $100 for 100 households yet 50 eligible households apply, then household each would receive only $2 in LIEAP.

Another factor that decreases the amount that tribal members receive is administrative costs.

According to the LIEAP Clearinghouse Website: “1) Grantees who are direct-grant tribes, tribal organizations or territories with allotments of $20,000 or less may use for planning and administrative costs up to 20% of the funds payable.”

“2) Grantees that are direct-grant tribes or tribal organizations with allotments over $20,000 may use up to 20% of the first $20,000 (or $4,000) plus 10% of the funds payable that exceeds $20,000.”

Last year the State of South Dakota received $27,878,165 with $4,956,738 set aside for tribes.

Using the formula, $509,673 of the $4,956,738 would have been used to administer the seven tribal LIEAP programs in the state. How much heating fuel could $509,673 have bought for Tribal members during one of the coldest winters on record?

Last winter propane was at about $1.92 a gallon. Money used for administrative costs would have bought 265,454 gallons of propane, filling 1,327 two hundred gallon propane tanks.

On the LIEAP Clearinghouse Website are suggestions for reducing administrative costs for tribes who administer their own programs.

One suggestion is to make households participating in another program automatically eligible and gave the following example.

Example - A small eastern tribe administers a Food Commodity program.

Recipients of Food Commodities have incomes less than 150 percent of poverty. The tribe sets its LIHEAP income limit at 150 percent of poverty and makes these recipients automatically eligible for LIHEAP benefits. When the amount of LIHEAP funding is known, it is simply divided up among the eligible households (those households at and below 150 percent of poverty, including the recipients of the Food Commodity Program) based upon respective incomes and fuel types of the households. A one-time payment is made using funds available for LIHEAP benefits. (However, the tribe could not limit LIHEAP benefits to only those households receiving benefits under the Food Commodity Program.) Federal reports are filed, and the program is closed down.

Administrative costs are greatly reduced, and more funds are available for benefits to households.

Other suggestions were to, use established tribal central services, consider using the same consolidated application form and intake procedures for two or more programs or shorten the length of the program.

Another suggestion was to join or form a consortium.

“The common practice of forming a consortium has two forms. One involves the administration of LIHEAP for several tribes by a consortium organization that is not a part of any of the tribes. The second is the administration of LIHEAP for one or more tribes by a second tribe which is often large. In both situations, many of the costs that each tribe would ordinarily incur are saved or reduced. Such costs may include planning, program development, application printing, outreach, reporting, etc.”

However the most logical solution to the disparity seems to be what Tamara LaPlant said, “I think it would be better if they would let tribal people apply directly through the state for benefits.”

Contact Ernestine Chasing Hawk at