Today, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand stood at Eastman Reserve in Rochester and urged Congress to deliver robust Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) funding in the next coronavirus relief package in order to provide critical assistance for low-income households and seniors. Within the last year, the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic has put an unprecedented financial burden on New Yorkers. Millions of New Yorkers are finding it more difficult to afford the cost of keeping the heat on in their homes during the cold winter months. According to the National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association (NEADA), one in five homes in the country is at least 60 days behind on the electric and gas utilities. While the CARES Act dedicated $900 million in emergency LIHEAP funding last year, experts estimate at least $10 million in new emergency supplemental funding is needed to help financially strained households across the country pay their energy bills and stay safe throughout the winter.
“The financial strain of the pandemic has hit New Yorkers hard, especially those living paycheck to paycheck. For months, cash-strapped individuals and families have worried if they can keep their lights on, warm their homes, and put food on the table. With unemployment remaining at record highs, Congress cannot wait to deliver vital relief,” said Senator Gillibrand. “LIHEAP is well-positioned to rapidly respond to, and support the needs of, households that are struggling to heat their homes this winter. Funding the program will provide a lifeline to New Yorkers in need and I will fight to ensure it’s included in the next relief package.”
“Right now we are telling our community that the safest place to be is at home during the pandemic. But for many families, particularly seniors, help is often needed to make sure their homes have adequate heating to stay warm during the coldest winter months. No one should ever have to choose between food, vital prescription drugs, heat or rent. LIHEAP serves as a lifeline for so many, and I am incredibly thankful for Senator Gillibrand’s continued advocacy to ensure this much needed program is funded,” said Assemblywoman Sarah Clark.
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, which has disproportionately hit low-wage workers and underserved populations. In a letter, Senator Gillibrand and more than 40 Senate Democrats are calling for at least $10 million in emergency LIHEAP funds during negotiations for the next coronavirus relief package.
Senator Gillibrand has consistently fought to ensure New Yorkers can afford their utilities. When millions of workers were laid off at the beginning of the pandemic, New York and states across the country did not have sufficient funds to provide assistance to those losing their jobs. Senator Gillibrand fought alongside her colleagues to deliver $900 million in LIHEAP funding in the CARES Act. Gillibrand also successfully pushed the Trump administration to immediately release the emergency funding and send a vital lifeline to New Yorkers.
Full text of the letter can be found here and below.
Dear Majority Leader Schumer and Minority Leader McConnell:
As you work to craft another recovery package to help Americans cope with the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, we urgently request that you provide robust supplemental funding that reflects the increased need for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). The LIHEAP program is well-positioned to quickly respond to, and support the needs of, millions of American households affected by the COVID-19 pandemic who are struggling to heat their homes this winter and cool their homes next summer.
State energy officials have reported that they are ready to move additional LIHEAP funds quickly and have identified a need for an additional $10 billion to serve 11 million families, including newly-eligible households. Across the nation, utilities are reporting significant increases in the number of families falling behind on their utility bills. The National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association estimates that 15 to 20 percent of residential customers are at least 60 days behind on their electric and natural gas bills.
LIHEAP assistance is an indispensable lifeline, helping to ensure that recipients do not have to choose between paying their energy bills and affording other necessities like food and medicine. Yet the annual funding for LIHEAP is only able to provide benefits to approximately one in six eligible households. We appreciate the $900 million included in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act for LIHEAP, but those funds are now fully obligated and additional funding is necessary to help the newly unemployed with their growing bills.
Thank you for your consideration of our request, and we look forward to working with you to support these important programs in this time of crisis.