State Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) directors are calling for Congress to provide an additional $4.3 billion of funding for the LIHEAP program in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Energy Assistance Directors Association (NEADA) said on April 6.
In late March, President Trump signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, a $2.2 trillion spending program to help mitigate the effects of the pandemic.
The bill included $900 million for LIHEAP to help low-income households pay their utility bills during the crisis.
“Due to the depth of the crisis, this funding only scratches the surface of what families will need to stay afloat,” NEADA said.
NEADA noted that in the final week of March alone, 6.6 million new people filed for unemployment and the New York Times estimates the total unemployment could be upwards of 16 million before the pandemic has run its course.
“This is in addition to the millions of underemployed, disabled, and elderly Americans who were struggling to make ends meet before the crisis began. These families will rely on LIHEAP to help pay the bills until they get back on their feet,” NEADA said.
State LIHEAP directors are therefore calling for additional funding of $4.3 billion to help the millions more households that will be affected.
NEADA said its estimate of need assumes an average grant of $325 to cover home energy costs for four months, plus $300 to provide window or room air conditioners for elderly and medically vulnerable households to ensure their houses stay a safe temperature while they are sheltering in place.
“States have reported to us that they are ready to move funds quickly. Despite the challenges of switching from in-person applications to telephone or mail, the states are making the necessary changes to keep their programs open and continue providing service to families in need,” NEADA said.
The initial $900 million will bridge the gap, “giving states the ability to keep programs running, staff employed, and customers served while a more comprehensive solution is being developed but it is not sufficient to meet the rapidly growing need for assistance.”
Senators urge HHS to quickly release $900 mil in LIHEAP funding
Meanwhile, in a March 31 letter to U.S Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar, 28 Senators urged the Trump Administration to quickly release the $900 million in LIHEAP funding that that Congress included in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
As Congress moves to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, additional funding for LIHEAP has been a key priority for the American Public Power Association.
“LIHEAP assistance is an indispensable lifeline, helping to ensure that recipients do not have to choose between paying their energy bills and affording other necessities like food and medicine,” the Senators wrote.
“As the economic impact of the coronavirus spreads, it will disproportionately hit low-wage workers who often live paycheck to paycheck,” the letter said. “In most states, traditional unemployment only covers a portion of a worker’s average weekly wages. For these workers, working from home is not an option and a missed paycheck could have a significant impact on their finances.”
The Senators also said that they are deeply concerned that HHS has yet to release $37 million in LIHEAP funds that Congress restored in the first coronavirus supplemental (P.L. 116-123) and urged HHS to do so immediately.
“Together, these funds will provide assistance to approximately three million low-income households when they need it most,” the lawmakers wrote. (The letter is available here).
“According to the National Energy Assistance Directors' Association (NEADA), states do not have sufficient funds to provide assistance to those losing their jobs,” the letter noted. “Many states are reporting no surplus of funds or extremely limited funding available. Claims will increase as families struggle to pay their utility bills at the end of the month. Already some areas are reporting that requests for assistance have tripled.”
The Senators told Azar that releasing this funding now “is critical for state and community organizations to be able to support these families and seniors during this time and provide some measure of stability by assisting with the costs of utilities to keep the lights and heat on and people in their homes.”
Among the Senators signing the March 31 letter were Sens. Jack Reed, D-R.I. and Susan Collins, R-Maine.
Reed and Collins on March 18 sent a letter to Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Senate Majority Leader, and Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., asking that they provide at least $1 billion in additional funding for the LIHEAP program.