The program that keeps homes warm for needy Spokane residents has fallen 22 percent behind in contributions from a year ago, its administrator said this week.
With winter heating bills around the corner, the people running Project Share, which provides subsidies for residents, said donations are off for the second straight year.
The situation looks even worse at Project Share this year because Congress is contemplating a 35 percent energy assistance cut that would put a double-whammy on low-income families, said Margaret Belote, energy programs coordinator for Spokane Neighborhood Actions Program (SNAP).
Her agency distributes both federal energy assistance money and donated Project Share dollars to families meeting eligibility criteria.
Project Share money comes from area utility customers, who send in additional dollars when paying their monthly bill.
This year, those Project Share donations are about 22 percent below last year’s amount.
And last year’s total Project Share contributions were the lowest in the three years SNAP has managed the program. Washington Water Power managed Project Share before SNAP.
That drop may be the result of warm winters the past two years, Belote suggested. It’s clear, she added, that similar programs elsewhere don’t see the same decline.
“This isn’t happening across the country,” she said. “I think it’s indicative of mild winters, and those tend to lead to fewer donations.”
Recipients of Project Share or the federal energy assistance program use the money to pay for gas, electric, oil, wood, propane and other types of heating.
The programs have slightly different criteria. Last year, SNAP distributed about $2 million in federal subsidies and about $295,000 in Project Share money.
The year before, Project Share distributed about 20 percent more money - $371,536.
Most of the Project Share money is spent within Spokane County, with about 40 percent going to other Eastern Washington and North Idaho residents.
The federal heating subsidy faces hard times in the Republican Congress. The House wants to eliminate the subsidy entirely; the Senate proposes cutting it by 35 percent, Belote said.
SNAP intends to push the Project Share message harder in the next few months. By far the largest source of donations is WWP customers. And WWP gets about 46 percent of all its residential payments during the November-February period, said a company spokeswoman.
The cuts and drop in donations also force SNAP to urge those it helps to focus more on energy conservation.
“Ultimately, conservation is the basis for long-term reductions in the bills people are paying,” Belote said.
Since WWP launched it in 1982, Project Share has helped about 23,000 families, said company spokeswoman Susan Nielsen.
During the past year, Project Share provided heating help to about 1,500 families in the area. If the 22 percent reduction continues, that could mean about 300 fewer homes getting help, said Julie Pickerel of SNAP.
Many of those getting Project Share help are not the same people receiving federal energy subsidies, Belote said. The federal qualifying standards tend to be more stringent than Project Share’s.
“Project Share is ideal for helping those people who don’t qualify under the federal energy assistance requirements,” she said.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Graphic: Less cash for heat bill