Today, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand urged the Trump administration to quickly release the highest possible amount of Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) funds in order to provide critical financial assistance for low-income households and seniors. Before the pandemic, more than 1.5 million low-income New Yorkers and seniors depended on LIHEAP to help pay their energy bills and stay safe during the winter. Now the economic crisis has pushed vulnerable Americans into deeper financial hardship. The quick release of LIHEAP funds is an essential lifeline to families unemployed as a result of the economic crisis. New York received more than $377 million in LIHEAP funding last fiscal year.
“The financial strain of the COVID pandemic has crippled New York households statewide,” said Senator Gillibrand. “With winter fast approaching, cash-strapped New Yorker’s are facing another crisis: keeping their homes safe and warm. No one should have to make the impossible choice between heating their home or paying for necessities like food and medicine. This funding will provide a lifeline to New Yorkers in need and HHS must release it immediately.”
The average cost of home heating is unaffordable for millions of low-income households. New Yorkers can spend more than $2,700 a year on energy bills alone. The quick release of LIHEAP funds is an essential lifeline to families unemployed as a result of the pandemic. According to the National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association, 15% to 20% of residential customers are at least 60 days behind on their electric and natural gas utilities. In a letter to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar, Gillibrand and her colleagues called for the immediate release of the $3.7 billion in funding appropriated under the continuing resolution.
Senator Gillibrand has consistently fought to ensure New Yorkers can afford their utilities. Earlier this year, she joined a bipartisan effort to include $900 million in LIHEAP funding in the CARES Act, and successfully pushed for its release.
Full text of the letter can be found below.
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.