In October, Klobuchar, Smith, and a group of 40 U.S. Senators urged the Administration to make Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program funds available to states

WASHINGTON – Following their letter last month, U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Tina Smith (D-MN) announced that the Administration has released $3.36 billion for federal heating assistance funds to help low-income families and seniors on fixed incomes afford to heat their homes this winter. With colder weather approaching and energy costs projected to increase this winter, the senators said that quick action is especially important as the coronavirus pandemic has added financial hardships for millions of households.

In the October letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, who oversees the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), the senators pushed him to release the assistance as swiftly and at the highest level possible. The senators say federal LIHEAP funds are a crucial lifeline that helps low-income households and seniors on fixed incomes pay their energy bills and stay safe during the winter. 

“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,” the senators wrote. 

“As state agencies work to prepare their LIHEAP programs for the coming winter, it is crucial that they have the resources they need to assist low-income households and seniors as soon as possible, especially in light of the current health crisis.  As such, we request that you quickly release LIHEAP funds at the highest level possible to allow states to prepare for the upcoming season, so that low-income households do not have to choose between paying for heat and affording other necessities like food or medicine.”

The average cost of home heating is unaffordable for millions of low-income households, costing an average of $911 per year nationally.  The timely release of these funds will provide critical assistance to families unemployed as a result of the pandemic pay their energy bills.  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 helps low-income households with their home energy bills by providing payment and/or energy crisis assistance. 

In addition to Klobuchar, Smith, Reed, and Collins, the bipartisan letter was signed by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Patty Murray (D-WA), John Hoeven (R-ND), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Bob Casey (D-PA), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Angus King (I-ME), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Ed Markey (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Chris Coons (D-DE), Gary Peters (D-MI), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Mark Warner (D-VA), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Doug Jones (D-AL), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL).

Full text of the letter can be found below:

October 14, 2020

Dear Secretary Azar:

With passage of the continuing resolution, we write to urge the Department of Health and Human Services to release Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) funds as quickly and at the highest level possible.

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. 

As state agencies work to prepare their LIHEAP programs for the coming winter, it is crucial that they have the resources they need to assist low-income households and seniors as soon as possible, especially in light of the current health crisis.  As such, we request that you quickly release LIHEAP funds at the highest level possible to allow states to prepare for the upcoming season, so that low-income households do not have to choose between paying for heat and affording other necessities like food or medicine.

We look forward to continuing to work with you on this critical program, and thank you for your attention to our concerns and those of our constituents.

Sincerely,

Issues