(Washington, DC) – With colder weather approaching and energy costs projected to increase this winter, U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and a group of Senators urged the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to release funds for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) as swiftly and at the highest level possible under the current continuing resolution. HHS typically releases 90 percent of the $3.7 billion full year appropriation under a continuing resolution. The letter was led by U.S. Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Susan Collins (R-ME).
Heating a home is unaffordable for millions of low-income households, costing an average of $911 per year nationally. According to the National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association, 15 to 20 percent of residential customers are at least 60 days behind on their electric and natural gas bills. As of July 31, 2020, the estimated resulting electric arrearages are between $8 billion and $9.9 billion and natural gas arrearages are between $975 million and $1.3 billion.
LIHEAP is a federally funded program that provides eligible low-income households with help paying a portion of their heating and utility bills. Eligibility is based on a household’s combined income as well as the number of residents. As a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, ensuring Granite State families and seniors have access to heating and energy assistance has been a top priority for Senator Shaheen. Shaheen has historically saved and boosted funding for LIHEAP, which President Trump’s budget proposals have repeatedly sought to eliminate. LIHEAP provides assistance to more than 28,000 Granite Staters, many of them families, seniors and people with disabilities.
In their letter, the Senators highlighted the importance of the LIHEAP program in providing heating assistance to vulnerable households. “As the main federal program that helps low-income households and seniors with their energy bills, LIHEAP provides critical assistance during the cold winter and hot summer months. October marks the start of the heating season for many states and low-income families and seniors will be facing additional strains on their household budgets. In addition, millions of low-income families, including seniors, are facing new and severe financial hardship due to the coronavirus, making the assistance provided through LIHEAP more important than ever.”
Low-income, elderly, and those with disabilities can get help paying their winter heating bills by applying for LIHEAP through their local Community Action Agency. Benefit amounts are based on each household’s income level, family size, whether they live in subsidized or non-subsidized housing, and the type of fuel used for heating.
The Senators concluded their letter by reiterating the need to provide certainty to states that LIHEAP funding will be ready and available to be disbursed to American families, which is particularly important as the coldest months approach and as households continue to weather the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The letter can be read in full here.