With Home Heating Costs Poised to Rise 30 Percent, Lawmakers Want to Ensure Federal Home Heating Assistance Will Be There

WASHINGTON, D.C. [12/23/21]—With home heating costs set to rise by 30 percent this winter, U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith (both D-Minn.) are pressing top federal officials to ensure that hard-hit families in Minnesota and across the country continue to have access to adequate home heating assistance.

On Wednesday, the lawmakers joined a bicameral letter urging U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra to address the ongoing energy crisis and its impact on families served by the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).

The lawmakers pointed out that the expected winter spike in home heating costs will rise to a level not seen since 2014, and would impact 61 million households that use natural gas to heat their homes. As a consequence, the purchasing power of LIHEAP funding currently available could drop by as much as 30 percent. The letter presses Secretary Becerra to detail steps he is taking to ensure that all eligible low-income families receive much-needed heating assistance. 

“As the world economy recovers from the pandemic, global energy markets are struggling to keep up with a surge in demand and prolonged supply shortages,” the Members wrote. “For low-income families, these price increases are unsustainable and will force them to choose between heating their homes and other essentials like rent, food, or medicine. As state agencies and grantees prepare their winter programs, it is crucial that they have strong support from your department to assist low-income households.”

LIHEAP is a federally funded program that helps low-income households with their home energy bills by providing families with funds to pay for gas, electric, and other methods customers use to heat their homes. LIHEAP is administered by states and accessed through local Community Action Agencies.  Eligibility for LIHEAP is based on income, family size, and the availability of resources.

The letter is signed by 19 U.S. Senators, including: Jack Reed (D-RI), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Debbie Stabenow (D-CO), Michael F. Bennet (D-CO), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Jon Ossoff (D-GA), Christopher S. Murphy (D-CT), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Mark R. Warner (D-VA).

It was also signed by 89 members of the U.S. House of Representatives.  

 

Full text of the letter follows:

Dear Secretary Becerra:

We thank the Department of Health and Human Services for its recent release of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program’s (LIHEAP) annual allocation that will augment relief funding provided by the American Rescue Plan. However, we remain concerned that the ongoing global energy crisis will adversely impact families who will rely on LIHEAP to stay warm this winter.

As the world economy recovers from the pandemic, global energy markets are struggling to keep up with a surge in demand and prolonged supply shortages. Natural gas prices across Europe have increased sixfold compared to this time last year, while coal and natural gas deficits have plunged China into a power crisis that has forced Chinese factories and businesses to rely on diesel-fueled generators just to maintain operations. , To meet global demand, U.S. liquefied natural gas exports continue to grow faster than domestic natural gas production, depleting our natural gas inventories and raising prices on American families in the process. While we applaud President Biden’s focus on addressing high fuel costs, we are concerned that the ongoing volatility in global prices for fossil fuels like natural gas could exacerbate the anticipated spike in home heating costs as this energy crisis impacts the United States. 

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects that the cost of home heating for households will increase by 30 percent this winter, which is a level that has not been seen since 2014, and would impact 61 million households that use natural gas for heating. The EIA expects even larger surges in home heating costs this winter for the 10 percent of American households relying on deliverable fuels like propane and heating oil. According to the National Energy Assistance Directors Association, the average residential natural gas bill will increase from $572 to $746 and heating oil bills per household will rise from $1,272 to $1,734. As a consequence, the purchasing power of appropriated LIHEAP funding would drop by as much as 30 percent. That means that the program’s value in available funding would decrease by $1.14 billion from $3.8 billion for regular appropriations and by $1.35 billion from $4.5 billion for stimulus funds. For low-income families, these price increases are unsustainable and will force them to choose between heating their homes and other essentials like rent, food, or medicine. 

As state agencies and grantees prepare their winter programs, it is crucial that they have strong support from your department to assist low-income households. In consideration of these concerns, we respectfully request that you provide answers to the following questions:

  1. On November 18, 2021, the Biden administration unveiled recommendations on how American Rescue Plan funds should be used to protect households from rising home heating costs. Can you provide us with an update on your agency’s efforts to meet these recommendations and share your timeline for expediting assistance?
  2. Last year, LIHEAP funding reached about 16 percent of the eligible population. This winter season, what percentage of the eligible population does your Department expect to serve with the additional $4.5 billion for LIHEAP and emergency rental assistance from the American Rescue Plan?
  3. How has your Department made it easier for households to apply for LIHEAP assistance during this pandemic and ongoing energy crisis?
  4. What steps has the Department taken to increase outreach to non-traditional households, especially those who have recently become unemployed and/or do not know that they qualify for LIHEAP?
  5. Does the Department anticipate that current funding is sufficient to meet expected increases in energy prices or will additional resources be necessary?

Thank you for your consideration and for your work for vulnerable families.

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