WASHINGTON, August 9, 2017 - The National Energy and Utility Affordability Coalition (NEUAC) has dubbed the month of August LIHEAP (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program) Action Month. Established in 1981 to help low-income households pay for heating or cooling their homes, LIHEAP is funded annually through congressional appropriations.
The program, which helps impoverished Americans keep their power on, served approximately 6.1 million households in 2016 who otherwise would have likely had to choose between warmth and food. Congress appropriated $3.39 billion for LIHEAP in 2017, out of an available budgeted amount of $5.1 billion.
Thirty-five attorneys general signed a letter, dated July 31, 2017, in support of the program and advocated for its expansion. The letter underlined LIHEAP’s method of supplying payment directly to utilities, helping consumers avoid rising costs due to others’ inability to pay.
“At the end of the day, if those costs aren’t being paid for by that customer, they’re being socialized through the whole customer base, which is why we support LIHEAP,” Todd Brady of the American Public Gas Association (APGA), told Agri-Pulse.
At current funding levels, the program is able to help 18 percent of eligible households allocating a household average of $460 yearly, which covers around 60 percent of their home heating bill. Participants must apply for the state block funds annually. The National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association (NEADA) is the primary educational and policy organization for LIHEAP. Association director Mark Wolfe revealed that LIHEAP funds go beyond helping people pay the energy bill and may just save their lives.
“If they eliminated the program I think we’d go back to 30 or 40 years ago where people used space heaters to heat their homes. They used fires. Those kinds of things. We really haven’t had many incidents of people dying due to not using the home heating system properly,” Wolfe said. “We also know that there are families who would not buy medicine, buy less food in order to pay the energy bill.”
President Donald Trump had proposed eliminating funding for the bill in his first budget proposal earlier this year, noting that doing so would “reduce the size and scope of the federal government and better target resources within the Department of Health and Human Services' Administration for Children and Families.”
According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, proposed cuts to the program could save the government $13.3 billion over the next decade by eliminating LIHEAP’s funding in connection with SNAP.
As of July 11, 2017, the House Appropriations Committee had approved the program at a funding level of $3.39 billion. The bill is currently under review in the Senate. The office of Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said it expects a markup in early September.