Sign the FY22 NEUAC All-Parties Letter in Support of LIHEAP Today
An Open Letter to Congressional Appropriations Committees In Support of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)
Dear House and Senate Appropriators:
The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) is a critical, life-saving program that targets and serves the most vulnerable — including older Americans, individuals with disabilities, and children. 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. 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.
The National Energy and Utility Affordability Coalition (NEUAC), along with more than [ number will be added after signatures collected ] dedicated partners signing this letter, strongly urge Congress to maximize funding for LIHEAP for FY22 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.
Utilities are even more vitally important during the pandemic with more than 60 percent of U.S. K-12 schools reopening virtually for the 2020-2021 school year[i] and 42 percent of the U.S. labor force working from home fulltime[ii]. Energy has always been essential, but is now even more critical to provide access to education and employment as well as heating, cooling, hot water, and refrigeration.
LIHEAP has reliably and effectively stabilized families and provided consistent benefits that relieve the energy burden of those most in need for nearly 40 years. This premiere federal energy assistance program keeps electricity flowing to life-saving equipment for those with chronic health conditions, including respiratory conditions like COVID-19. LIHEAP prevents disconnection of service, contributes to housing and family stability, and preserves the dignity of those served by helping them pay their bills in full and on time.
Nearly 41 million Americans lived in poverty in 2017 according to U.S. Census data, and that number has only grown since the pandemic forced more than 30 million Americans to file for unemployment this year – many of whom are now eligible for LIHEAP. Key protections have expired, leaving households more vulnerable to utility debt. More than one in four of those who lost jobs during the COVID-19 crisis reported skipping or needing to skip a utility bill payment.[iii]
The 2018 National Energy Assistance Survey (NEAS)iv reported that 92 percent of LIHEAP recipient households contain at least one vulnerable person. Elders, young children, and the disabled are most vulnerable to extreme temperatures and thus are targeted by LIHEAP. Nearly half of NEAS respondents reported that one or more persons in the household were age 60 or older.
One in three LIHEAP recipients reported they went without food for at least one day in the prior 12 months, according to the NEAS. One in three LIHEAP recipients on the NEAS reported using their kitchen stove to heat their home, posing the risk of fire or carbon monoxide poisoning in the home.
LIHEAP eases the energy burden of those in need, improves health and safety by reducing the need for unsafe secondary heating sources and providing cooling in the summer, and also can make homes more energy efficient through weatherization services.
To punctuate the argument, here are a number of data points regarding the need for energy assistance at the present time:
- In some states, 1 in 3 households is behind on utility bills [iv]
- 34.5 million households lost shutoff protections on October 1, 2020, leaving 9.5 million unemployed at risk of losing utility service [v]
- More than 1/4 of those who lost jobs during the COVID-19 crisis reported skipping or needing to skip a utility bill payment [vi]
- 22% of utility customers reported that they had reduced or put off expenses for basic needs like medicine and food in order to pay their utility bills [vii]
- More than 60% of U.S. K-12 schools reopened virtually for the 2020-2021 school year, meaning millions of children would be left without access to education if their power is shut off [viii]
- 42% of the U.S. labor force is now working from home fulltime, with many others suffering job loss or reduction of hours. Access to power is critical to maintaining work for the remaining household member(s) [ix]
- Millions of Americans have filed for unemployment since the president declared a national emergency in spring, many of whom are now eligible for LIHEAP. Key protections including expansion of unemployment benefits have expired, leaving households more vulnerable to utility debt
- Arrearages are piling up during the crisis. A surge in unemployment, combined with the effects of suspending disconnections, is expected to increase balances of unpaid bills to $2.6 billion through 2022 at co-op utilities [x]
- A 1% increase in the unemployment rate is associated with a 13% increase in the likelihood of experiencing bill hardship and a 16% increase in the probability of having one’s utilities disconnected