Disaster Response and Mutual Aid

APPA urges Congress to boost funding for LIHEAP, Coronavirus Relief Fund

Congress should increase funding for the Coronavirus Relief Fund to states and the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), Joy Ditto, President and CEO of the American Public Power Association, said in an April 9 letter sent to leaders in the House and Senate.

“We believe that a number of steps to encourage infrastructure investments are appropriate – including reinstating the ability to issue advance refunding bonds – but completely agree with your assessment that a more immediate need is a narrowly focused bolstering of the provisions of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act),” wrote Ditto.

The letter was sent to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.

An effort to pass a narrowly crafted fourth coronavirus response bill stalled on April 9 in the Senate and congressional leaders are now expected to begin negotiations.

Along with the increase in funding for the Coronavirus Relief Fund to states and LIHEAP, APPA would also like to see completed implementation of CARES Act section 4003(c)(3)(E) requiring the Treasury Department to work to establish a Federal Reserve program or facility that provides liquidity to the financial system that supports lending to states and municipalities, Ditto said in the letter.

“Even with these steps we remain extremely concerned about the financial effect of this crisis on public power utilities operating through the U.S.,” Ditto said.

The COVID-19 pandemic “is creating a double-edge challenge for these critical providers: increased costs and reduced revenues. Increased costs as we take extraordinary measures to ensure that ‘the lights stay on,’ but decreased revenues as commercial, industrial, and institutional use declines and delinquency in payments increase. The full extent of this may not be seen for weeks – or even months – and financial concerns may seem secondary when life safety is on the line, but we must pay our workers, we must pay for fuel that drives our power plants, and we must pay for equipment when repairs are needed.”

Ditto said that meeting these needs is critical. Health care personnel and first responders are on the front lines facing the COVID-19 pandemic, but they absolutely must have electricity, she noted.

“Electricity powers ventilators, lighting, cellphones, modems, sterilizing equipment, testing equipment, emergency dispatch, and the list goes on. Likewise, ambulances, fire trucks, and police cars may burn gasoline and diesel, but it takes an electric pump to refuel them. Even our homes are part of this effort, with Americans quarantining to help reduce the spread of this lethal disease – and it is electricity that makes our homes habitable and powers the devices that allow us to work remotely,” wrote Ditto.

She pointed out that these utilities receive no benefit from the payroll tax credit created under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act “(though they should), have no access to the small business loans authorized by the CARES Act, and to date have not had access to the Federal Reserve facility.”

In addition, while several APPA members serve large cities, of the more than 2,000 public power utilities operating in the U.S., all but 30 have 500 or fewer employees – and more than 1,300 public power utilities have 10 or fewer employees.

“We strongly encourage Congress to consider ways to ensure they all have direct access to relief,” Ditto said.