U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, U.S. Senator Edward Markey (D-MA) and U.S. Representative Jamaal Bowman (D-NY-16) introduced a bicameral bill that would expand the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) to ensure people, particularly underserved families and individuals, receive the financial assistance they need to stay warm throughout the winter and cool throughout the summer.
The Heating and Cooling Relief Act of 2023 would increase annual funding for LIHEAP to $40 billion and expand eligibility to ensure that no household pays more than three percent of its annual income on energy costs. The bill would also give states the ability to leverage LIHEAP funding to advance climate adaptation, and increase the funding that is made available for weatherization.
“LIHEAP provides a lifeline for thousands of low-income families across New York State,” said Senator Gillibrand. “With the cost of living on the rise, burdening working class families with exorbitant bills, we need to do everything we can to help those who need it the most. That is why I am proud to support this crucial bill that would expand and improve LIHEAP for households across the country.”
In addition to increasing annual LIHEAP funding to $40 billion, expanding eligibility to ensure that no household pays more than three percent of its annual income on energy costs, and increasing funding made available for weatherization through LIHEAP, the Heating and Cooling Relief Act would:
- Minimize the barriers to administering and applying for LIHEAP by allowing households to self-attest to eligibility criteria; increasing the administrative cap for outreach, technological, and staffing purposes; and ensuring LIHEAP coordinators are paid at least a living wage;
- Protect consumers by ensuring that no eligible household has its utilities shutoff 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;
- Ensure 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
- Establish a new Just Transition Grant for states and localities to help reduce energy burdens for LIHEAP-eligible households and promote renewable energy usage.
Senator Gillibrand has consistently worked to help New Yorkers afford their utilities. In 2022, Gillibrand successfully fought for $1 billion in emergency supplemental LIHEAP funding in the short-term government funding package passed in September. This aid delivered over $63 million in additional support for New Yorkers to defray their home energy costs this winter on top of the $349 million appropriated from the regular LIHEAP block grant and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
Senator Gillibrand also called on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to use its statutory authority to ensure that Americans’ household energy bills would not be driven up by energy market manipulation in wholesale natural gas and electricity markets. In 2021, Senator Gillibrand called on the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to address the ongoing energy crisis and ensure families that rely on LIHEAP had the resources they needed to stay warm through the winter. 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.
Cosponsors of this legislation in the Senate include Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
Organizations that have endorsed the Heating and Cooling Relief Act include: WE ACT for Environmental Justice, 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, Sustainable Westchester, New York Lawyers for Public Interest, Bloc Power, NY Geothermal Energy Organization, and NYC-Environmental Justice Alliance, Massachusetts Association for Community Action (MASSCAP), NY Renews, Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition, National Homelessness Law Center, Groundswell, and the New York League of Conservation Voters.
A copy of the bill text can be found HERE.