I got a weather report from the Rapid City Journal earlier and have been trying to figure out which cliché I wanted to use to describe the cold there. But I couldn’t think of anything cold enough to be fitting, so I’ve decided to let you fill in the blank after you read the post.
These are the facts: the temperature is zero degrees F, the wind is blowing at 32 mph with gusts to 38 mph and it is snowing lightly. The “feels like” temperature is -27 degrees F. That’s right – minus 27.
That’s very likely the temperature measured at the Rapid City Airport, as many places use the airport to measure official weather statistics. But let’s travel an hour and a half south, to the Pine Ridge Reservation. Now we’re on the prairie and in the badlands. The wind has fewer obstructions and is really howling.
How cold does it feel here? Let’s factor in a few other pieces of information. Most housing on the reservation is of substandard construction. There are many wood frame houses and trailer homes. Most are not insulated. In fact, many have holes and drafts. Homes here are heated in several ways – propane furnaces, wood stoves and electric space heaters. With the coldness of winter there, the propane does not last very long. Those who heat with wood may run out, especially in bad weather. There are those who have resorted to burning whatever will burn in the stove to stay warm – clothing, books, furniture. Electric space heaters are extremely costly – not to purchase but to run. They need to be on continuously. The electric bills by the end of heating season often end up too high to be paid, so the electricity is shut off. The electric company is not supposed to shut off the power in the winter, but it has happened. Trying to heat with wood or electric has also resulted in some catastrophic, wind-driven fires that destroy homes before the fire department can arrive.
I am not going to debate the causes of these circumstances here and I refuse to make this a political discussion as well. It is, to me, a moral issue. No one in this country should have to burn their clothing or books to stay warm. No child should have to be under piles of blankets or clothing to stay warm while he or she tries to sleep.
I am going to make an exception to my rule, though. It’s my blog and I can do that if I want to. I will do it because of another article I read in the Rapid City Journal this morning. The article by Mary Garrigan of the Journal staff was actually posted Thursday, Dec 10, 2010 and is entitled “Energy assistance payments vary.”
In a place like Pine Ridge, where unemployment is 80%-90% and 90 % live under the federal poverty level, you can be sure that energy assistance is a winter lifeline – literally. People have frozen to death there, including one man I had personally met.
So what did the article have to say about energy assistance? The first thing I found interesting is that there is a different amount available to people depending on whether they qualify for aid through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) of the State of South Dakota or must rely on the LIHEAP of their tribal government.
LIHEAP helps income-eligible families pay for heating and insulating their homes in winter and cooling them in summer. It is a federally funded program which begins in October. South Dakota’s allotment last year totaled more than $29.3 million; the amount of that set aside for Native American tribes in the state was $5.2 million based on a federal formula that uses 1990 Census data to determine the amounts.
Tribes have the option of administering their own LIHEAP programs and in South Dakota 7 of the 9 tribes have opted to do so. There is an agreement between the state of South Dakota and the tribes that the federally calculated amounts (2.3% of the total) will be doubled (to 4.6%) because it is commonly agreed upon that the Census undercounted tribal residents.
So, we have the 7 tribes, including the Oglala Sioux Tribe of Pine Ridge Reservation, receiving 4.6% of the total funding. In a state with such a significant Native American population, this seems insufficient – but that is just my non-scientific opinion.
What kind of amounts of money are we talking about, anyway? Does it really matter?
The article tells of a resident of the nearby Cheyenne River Reservation. He is enrolled with his tribe; his wife is not a tribal member. Therefore their household is able to qualify for the state-run LIHEAP funds. If both were tribal members, they would have to qualify for the tribal LIHEAP instead. How much of a difference can it make?
This year, this couple expects to receive about $1661 in aid. His cousins, brothers and other relatives will receive about $400 on the same reservation. $1661 vs $400! If you don’t belong to the tribe, you can get 300% more!
The amount available to residents on the Pine Ridge Reservation was expected to be $300 for the winter. I don’t know why it is less. I do know that is how much people have been receiving. They have told me that when I’ve spoken to them.
The people I have spoken to have also told me that the money has already run out and that people have been turned away because of that! How can that be?
The Journal article notes that South Dakota’s LIHEAP awards vary according to primary heating source and geographic region. The poorest families could expect approximately $427 per year for coal and wood, $1245 for natural gas, up to $1096 for electricity, up to $2082 for propane and $2333 for fuel oil.
I have no information on how these programs are administered. I do not know where the money goes or why tribal members receive less.
I DO KNOW THAT $300 OR $400 IS NOT ENOUGH TO HEAT A GOOD HOUSE IN SOUTH DAKOTA, LET ALONE A HOME LIKE MANY OF THOSE ON THE RESERVATIONS!!!
I also know that, while the politicians (state, federal and tribal) are bickering about the responsibilities and trying to assess blame, I will be talking to people who are COLD and are asking for help to keep themselves and their children warm.
It really ticks me off!!
You can read the original article at http://rapidcityjournal.com/news/article_8056e9b4-13c2-11e0-b813-001cc4c002e0.html
In the meantime, don’t forget to fill in the blank – either as a comment here or in a Twitter reply to the link.
Colder than … ______________________