U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand joined a bipartisan call urging the Trump Administration to immediately release $900 million in Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) funding that Congress included in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Gillibrand and her Senate colleagues are further demanding the administration release $37 million that the White House transferred from the program earlier this year to offset the cost of coronavirus response. The growing COVID-19 pandemic has pushed vulnerable New Yorkers, and millions of Americans, into financial hardship. As low-income families and seniors are struggling to make ends meet, the emergency LIHEAP funding will be an effective way to assist those who have already been vetted and approved. The funds provide crucial assistance to low-income, elderly, and those with disabilities in New York through local non-profit organizations that deliver social services, community health, and housing assistance to low-income, elderly, and those with disabilities in New York.
“In the middle of this pandemic, far too many New Yorkers are struggling to pay their utilities after weeks of social distancing that shut down most workplaces and laid off millions of workers,” said Senator Gillibrand. “As claims for assistance increase, HHS must expedite these emergency funds and provide some stability to low-income households and seniors in this time of great need.”
According to the National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association (NEADA), states do not have sufficient funds to provide assistance to those losing their jobs and many states are reporting no surplus of funds or extremely limited funding available. The emergency LIHEAP funds will provide a vital lifeline for those in financial strain because they’ve lost wages due to the coronavirus outbreak, which has disproportionately hit low-wage workers and vulnerable populations who live paycheck to paycheck.
The letter to U.S Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar was led in the U.S. Senate by Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) and Susan Collins (R-ME). Full text of the letter can be found below.
March 31, 2020
The Honorable Alex M. Azar II
Secretary U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
330 C Street, SW
Washington, D.C. 20416
Dear Secretary Azar:
We respectfully request that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) release the $900 million provided by Congress for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act as quickly as possible. In addition, we are deeply concerned that HHS has not yet released the $37 million in LIHEAP funds that Congress restored in the first coronavirus supplemental (P.L. 116-123) and urge you to do so immediately. Together, these funds will provide assistance to approximately three million low-income households when they need it most.
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. As the economic impact of the coronavirus spreads, it will disproportionately hit low-wage workers who often live paycheck to paycheck. In most states, traditional unemployment only covers a portion of a worker’s average weekly wages. For these workers, working from home is not an option and a missed paycheck could have a significant impact on their finances. Furthermore, LIHEAP provides a crucial safety net to protect our nation’s seniors. In fiscal year 2019, LIHEAP provided heating assistance to more than two million senior households, representing 40 percent of the total households served.
According to the National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association (NEADA), states do not have sufficient funds to provide assistance to those losing their jobs. Many states are reporting no surplus of funds or extremely limited funding available. Claims will increase as families struggle to pay their utility bills at the end of the month. Already some areas are reporting that requests for assistance have tripled. Releasing this funding now is critical for state and community organizations to be able to support these families and seniors during this time and provide some measure of stability by assisting with the costs of utilities to keep the lights and heat on and people in their homes.
As states continue to provide assistance to people in need, it is crucial that they have the resources to assist low-income households and seniors as soon as possible. We request that you quickly release all LIHEAP funds in order to allow states to provide this vital assistance. 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.