Powering Strong Communities

APPA, other groups call for a $10 billion emergency supplemental appropriation for LIHEAP

A group of national gas and electric utility associations, including the American Public Power Association, on Feb. 4 sent a letter to Congress calling for a $10 billion emergency supplemental appropriation for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).

The letter was sent to House and Senate Appropriations committee chairmen and ranking members.

“LIHEAP is the bedrock of America’s energy safety net, providing heating and cooling assistance to our most vulnerable, including the elderly, those with disabilities, and families with young children,” the letter noted.

“Unfortunately, even in healthier economic circumstances, LIHEAP need has proven to be far greater than the federal resources provided to serve vulnerable families. For example, in fiscal year (FY) 2019, despite low unemployment, a strong economy, and stable utility prices, only one of every six LIHEAP eligible households were able to be served.”

Now the situation “is substantially more dire,” APPA and other groups said.

Responding to the rising need for home energy assistance during the early stages of the pandemic, last year Congress “wisely appropriated an additional $900 million above the FY 2020 LIHEAP funding level in the CARES Act to address the growing crisis. Months later, the pandemic has worsened, and CARES Act funding has only covered a small fraction of low-income households needing support.”

Across the country, gas and electric utilities and deliverable heating fuel providers have developed billing programs to protect struggling American families during this pandemic, the energy groups told the federal lawmakers.

In many cases, utilities have voluntarily instituted moratoriums to prevent disconnections. In other circumstances, states have instituted broad billing moratoriums, in many cases alongside preexisting weather or seasonal billing moratoriums.

“Importantly, because energy service is vital to protecting people, we are committed to not disconnect anyone who is on a payment plan and stays current. However, while moratoriums may help customers manage their short-term financial condition, they are not a policy solution. All they do is push utility debt into the future, leaving low-income customers a higher, perhaps unmanageable, bill. In contrast, the LIHEAP program is a proven, efficient, appropriations-funded program that helps low-income households pay their energy bills,” the letter said.

The National Energy Assistance Directors Association estimates that utilities have accumulated approximately $30 billion in overdue bills since the beginning of the pandemic.

“Providing an additional $10 billion in supplemental LIHEAP funding in an upcoming COVID relief bill will only put a dent in America’s energy poverty problem. However, with additional funding, the program can expand utility bill payment assistance to millions more Americans experiencing unemployment and other economic hardship in the coming months due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.”

 While the Consolidated Appropriations Act enacted in December provides $25 billion for renter assistance – including for utilities – APPA has continued to work for increase LIHEAP funding to ensure that all customers can find relief.

Many people eligible for LIHEAP live in their own homes and so do not qualify for renter assistance. Likewise, LIHEAP is intended to be available through community action agencies in every county in the U.S., whereas the renter assistance program may not be universally available.

APPA asks members to consider signing letter in support of LIHEAP

Meanwhile, APPA is asking its members to consider signing a letter in support of LIHEAP.

The letter is the annual “All Parties” letter organized by the National Energy and Utility Affordability Coalition (NEAUC).

LIHEAP “is a critical, life-saving program that targets and serves the most vulnerable -- including older Americans, individuals with disabilities, and children,” the letter said. “The majority of these families and individuals survive on less than $20,000 per year; many are on fixed incomes. Their pay does not increase when the cost of heating and cooling their homes increases. Living at the lowest levels of poverty, recipients of these funds make choices every day between food, medicine, or utilities – choices that have been exacerbated by the ongoing economic repercussions of the novel coronavirus outbreak.”

As utility debt grows, the threat of energy insecurity “looms for millions of American families who could afford their bills one year ago,” the letter said. “Many hardworking people lost one or more sources of income because of the pandemic and now are at risk of utility disconnection or cannot afford fuel delivery. In 2018 four out of five eligible households did not receive LIHEAP assistance because of lack of funding, and the number of households in need continues to increase during the crisis.”

It strongly urges Congress to maximize funding for LIHEAP for Fiscal Year 2022 “in order to prevent and address a catastrophic loss of energy access across the country as moratoria end, utility debt grows beyond the ability to pay for millions of newly eligible households, and coronavirus continues to infiltrate every state and sector from the highest office to the most overcrowded tenements and under-resourced neighborhoods.”

To sign the letter, go to the NEUAC website here. Signatories are listed by organization, not by individual, but individual contact information must be provided to sign.

Lawmakers send letters in support of LIHEAP

In other recent news, members of the Senate and House sent letters to House and Senate leaders in support of LIHEAP.

The Senate letter obtained 44 signatures, while the House letter obtained 65.