Today, as New York continues facing extreme cold fronts, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is announcing her plan to introduce the Heating and Cooling Relief Act of 2022, which would invest $40 billion in annual funding to expand access to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and expand eligibility criteria so families never pay more than 3% of their annual income on energy costs. In addition to helping end energy poverty, this bicameral legislation would ensure that every household receiving LIHEAP funds can have their utility debt cleared and would help New York reach its energy goals by supporting the transition away from fossil fuel consumption. This bill is led by Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) and Representative Jamaal Bowman (D-NY-16).
“No person or family should ever go without adequate heat,” said Senator Gillibrand. “This bill would ensure that low-income families never pay more than 3% of their annual income on energy costs, even in the coldest winter months. As New York continues facing extreme and potentially dangerous cold weather, we must ensure that every person has access to reliable, affordable, and sufficient heat to stay safe at home.”
LIHEAP is a severely underfunded program that has only been able to reach approximately 16% of eligible households in recent years. In New York State alone, there are already more than 1.2 million households that collectively owe roughly $1.7 billion in late energy payments– this burden is disproportionately shouldered by low-income, Black, Hispanic, and Native American households that are forced to pay large shares of their monthly incomes on energy bills. This bill would protect New York consumers by ensuring that every household receiving LIHEAP funds can have their utility debt cleared and that no eligible households have their utilities shut off, especially during winter months. High energy burdens are also linked to greater risk for respiratory diseases, and as the Omicron variant continues to spread across New York, it’s vital that people have the financial backing to safely shelter in place without needing to rely on alternative sources of heat.
Specifically, the Heating and Cooling Relief Act would:
- Increases annual funding for LIHEAP to $40 billion and expands eligibility to ensure that no household pays more than three percent of its annual income on energy costs;
- Minimizes the barriers to administering and applying for LIHEAP by allowing households to self-attest to eligibility criteria; increases the administrative cap for outreach, technological, and staffing purposes; and ensures LIHEAP coordinators are paid at least a living wage;
- Protects consumers by ensuring that no eligible household has its utilities shut off or pays late fees, that every household receiving funds can have its utility debt cleared, and that utility companies set up discounted payment plans to support consumers;
- Ensures states can use LIHEAP to address climate adaptation by increasing funding for cooling assistance and ensuring households can access utility assistance during major disasters; and
- Increases funding made available for weatherization through LIHEAP, and establishes a new Just Transition Grant for states and localities to help reduce energy burdens for LIHEAP-eligible households and promote renewable energy usage.
This bill has been endorsed by Sustainable Westchester, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, Bloc Power, NY Geothermal Energy Organization, NYC-Environmental Justice Alliance, NY Renews, the National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association (NEADA), National Consumer Law Center (NCLC), National Housing Law Project, Public Citizen, Sunrise Movement, Evergreen Action, Green and Healthy Homes Initiative (GHHI), Sierra Club, Local Initiatives Support Coalition (LISC), Food and Water Watch, Rocky Mountain Institute, Center for Biological Diversity, Ecological Justice Initiative, Elevate, Dandelion Energy, Building Electrification Institute, Rewiring America, Association for Energy Affordability, and the Massachusetts Association for Community Action (MASSCAP).
Along with Senator Gillibrand, original co-sponsors of this legislation include Senator Warren (D-MA) and Representatives Jesús G. “Chuy” García (IL-04), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC), Rashida Tlaib (MI-13), Adriano Espaillat (NY-13), Ayanna Pressley (MA-07), Mark Takano (CA-41), Emanuel Cleaver, II (MO-05), Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14), Mondaire Jones (NY-17), Frederica S. Wilson (FL-24), Nydia Velázquez (NY-07), André Carson (IN-07), Gwen S. Moore (WI-04), Barbara Lee (CA-13), Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12), Carolyn B. Maloney (NY-12), Grace Meng (NY-06) and Pramila Jayapal (WA-07).
Senator Gillibrand has been a champion for energy and utility justice issues before and throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Earlier this month, Gillibrand joined colleagues in a bicameral letter urging the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to use its statutory authority to ensure that Americans’ household energy bills are not driven up by energy market manipulation in wholesale natural gas and electricity markets. In December of 2021, Gillibrand also joined colleagues to urge the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to address the ongoing energy crisis and ensure families that rely on LIHEAP have the resources needed to stay safe throughout the winter. Previously, in October of 2021, she joined colleagues to ask HHS to distribute LIHEAP funding quickly and at the highest level possible. When millions of workers were laid off at the onset of the pandemic, Senator Gillibrand fought alongside her colleagues to deliver $900 million in LIHEAP funding in the CARES Act and an additional $4.5 billion in supplemental funding to the program as part of the American Rescue Plan. Gillibrand also successfully pushed the Trump and Biden administrations to immediately release the emergency funding and send a vital lifeline to New Yorkers.
A copy of the bill text can be found HERE.