Energy Efficiency

Lawmakers urged to increase LIHEAP funding in response to COVID-19

As federal lawmakers craft legislation in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, they are being urged to allocate billions of dollars in additional funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), given that the pandemic is expected to result in widespread financial distress and a spike in unemployment.

“As you craft additional supplemental appropriations legislation, we urge you to consider $1.4 billion for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP),” wrote members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation in a March 18 letter to several key members of the House and Senate.

The letter was sent to:

  • Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee
  • Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Vice-Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee
  • Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., Chairman, Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services (Appropriations Committee)
  • Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., Ranking Member, Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services (Appropriations Committee)
  • Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., Chair, House Committee on Appropriations
  • Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, Ranking Member, House Committee on Appropriations
  • Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Ct., Chair, Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services
  • Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., Ranking Member, Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services

“LIHEAP provides critical financial assistance to low-income families in order to heat or cool their homes during times of extreme weather,” the group of federal lawmakers from Massachusetts noted.

“With millions of Americans now under quarantine, self-isolation, closed schools, and in certain areas mandated shelter-in-place orders, many are facing an uncertain financial future. According to the National Energy and Utility Affordability Coalition (NEUAC), the $1.4 billion request would assist up to 4 million more households nationally with new or additional assistance.” APPA is an ex officio member of the NEUAC board.

“Although we are approaching spring, New England experienced snow just this week. Additional funding will ensure these families can remain safely in their homes and practice the recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control such as stay-at-home and social distancing,” the Massachusetts lawmakers wrote.

They also said that the funding should be spread equitably across the country. “Last year’s Fiscal Year 2019 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill included language that would hold states harmless from a negative impact due to the LIHEAP funding formula. Any additional funding provided should remain available to all states subject to those same requirements.”

The letter was signed by Massachusetts Reps. Joseph Kennedy, Richard Neal, James P. McGovern, Lori Trahan, Katherine Clark, Seth Moulton, Ayanna Pressley, Stephen Lynch and William Keating and Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, all of whom are Democrats.

Senators seek at least $1 billion in additional funding for LIHEAP program

Meanwhile, in a March 18 letter, Sens. Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, asked Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Senate Majority Leader, and Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., to provide at least $1 billion in additional funding for the LIHEAP program. 

“In light of estimates from the Administration that unemployment could reach 20%, twice as high as during the Great Recession, current funding for LIHEAP is insufficient to meet the challenge of this growing crisis,” Reed and Collins said in their letter.

The noted that even in a modest recession, the U.S. “could see unemployment severely impact millions of Americans, and we know economic downturns increase the need for this vital program. In 2009, two million additional families received assistance and applications spiked 20 percent, despite a drop in energy prices the following fall.  As we approach the end of this month, our states expect claims will increase as people struggle to pay their utility bills. According to the National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association (NEADA), full funding for LIHEAP could help an additional 4.4 million low-income families.”

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. As the economic impact of coronavirus spreads, it will disproportionately hit low-wage workers who often live paycheck to paycheck. For these workers, working from home is not an option and a missed paycheck could have a significant impact on their finances. “

Reed and Collins also noted that LIHEAP provides a crucial safety net to protect the country’s seniors. In fiscal year 2019, LIHEAP provided heating assistance to more than two million senior households, representing 40 percent of the total households served. 

“Additional funding for LIHEAP will support seniors during this time. It would provide some measure of stability by assisting with utility costs and helping keep the lights and heat on for some of the most vulnerable members of our society,” wrote Collins and Reed. “Taking additional action to fund LIHEAP will send a strong message of support for the health and well-being of those fragile households struggling to maintain energy security.”

According NEADA, current funding is only able to serve about 5.8 million households or just one out of six eligible households, the senators noted. “In addition, the average LIHEAP grant now covers a lower portion of average home energy costs, leaving many low-income families and seniors struggling to pay for the basic necessity of home energy and having fewer resources available to meet other essential needs.”

Also, NEADA has reported that the states can move quickly to disburse funds to potential new and existing clients, making it one of the most effective ways to support those in need, Reed and Collins said in their letter.