U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand today announced that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has heeded their call and released more than $326 million in Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) funding to New York, which residents across the state rely on to pay their high heating costs during the winter. Schumer and Gillibrand previously pushed HHS to provide the maximum level of LIHEAP funding possible, and as soon as possible, to New York. Schumer and Gillibrand said this critical home heating assistance program is vital for the state’s most vulnerable seniors and families, who depend on this money due to the high cost of home heating. Schumer and Gillibrand argued that, with the harsh winter just around the corner, residents should not have to choose between paying their energy bills and purchasing other necessities, like food or medicine for their families. Schumer and Gillibrand said that with this $326,152,825 in federal HHS funding allocated, those families will have the financial assistance they need this winter.
“Hundreds of thousands of fixed-income seniors and low- to moderate- income New Yorkers each year rely on LIHEAP funding to help pay for the home heating costs that have become a larger and larger share of their budget. And with winter’s chill right around the corner, this major federal investment – more than $326 million in federal funding – will help New York’s most vulnerable cover their high energy costs. This means fewer people will have to make the agonizing decision over whether to pay energy bills or put food on the table,” said Senator Schumer. “Having these funds available now, in October, before winter begins rearing its ugly head across the northeast, is critical. This boost in home energy assistance could not come at a better time.”
“This funding through the Department of Health and Human Services is a critical lifeline to help struggling New Yorkers heat their homes and stay warm,” said Senator Gillibrand. “ The LIHEAP home heating assistance program would help cover high energy costs to lessen the burden on families. With the winter season approaching, no family should ever be left in the cold.”
Schumer and Gillibrand said that October marks the beginning of heating season, a period in which New Yorkers will pay more in monthly heating bills that lasts through the beginning of spring. With winter just around the corner, Schumer and Gillibrand said it is often the state’s most vulnerable populations that face the concern over whether they will have to choose between heating their homes and putting food on the table. The Senators explained that, during colder months, seniors and low-income families tend to pay a disproportionately higher amount on their monthly energy bills compared with their monthly paychecks. This has made the federal heating assistance program even more critical for providing relief to families and seniors by helping offset their high energy bills. This more than $326 million in federal LIHEAP funding will help offset their energy costs this winter.
The mission of LIHEAP is to assist low-income households and seniors, particularly those with the lowest incomes, who spend a high proportion of their total household income on home energy. The program does this by providing monthly benefits to recipients in the cold winter months as well as the hot summer seasons, when energy costs are at their highest. The funding can offset the cost of more efficient heating units in the winter, more efficient air conditioners in the summer, as well as weatherization. In addition, individuals can receive assistance with their utility bills, which could see serious spikes as energy prices rise during winter months. LIHEAP benefits for low-income households and seniors can cover the costs for bulk fuels, coal, pellets, wood, and other utilities.
Schumer and Gillibrand said this program has been a lifeline for thousands of households across NY State during times of economic downturn and, more recently, with the rise of heating costs. Specifically, the program provides relief for Upstate NY families and seniors whose incomes are 150 percent of the federal poverty level or lower. The majority of LIHEAP recipients fall well below that threshold. Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers, particularly many senior citizens living on a fixed income, benefit from the program each and every year. Schumer and Gillibrand said that because most LIHEAP funds are intended to aid seniors, families with a disabled member and families with children under the age of six, home heating aid is a significant health issue as well as an economic one. Roughly 40 percent of households served by LIHEAP include an adult aged 60 or over as well.
That is why Schumer and Gillibrand initially urged HHS to allocate the maximum amount LIHEAP funds possible, and as soon as possible, in order to prevent low-income families, including those with young children, and seniors from making difficult decisions on whether to heat their homes or pay for other necessities like food or medicine. Senator Jack Reed [D-RI] led the letter to HHS, which Schumer, Gillibrand and 40 of their Senate colleagues signed onto in order to push HHS to release these funds immediately and at the maximum amount.
Schumer and Gillibrand have long fought to secure more funding for the LIHEAP program. Annual funding for LIHEAP has steadily declined at the federal level since a peak in 2011. Despite high heating costs and lingering effects of the economic downturn, the federal LIHEAP appropriation declined from $4.7 billion in 2011 to only $3.25 billion in 2013 after sequestration. In 2014, Schumer wrote a letter to federal appropriators where he pushed for an increase in the budget for the federal LIHEAP. Following this push, LIHEAP was funded at $3.4 billion in FY2014, a $169 million increase.
Finally, in addition to helping New York’s most vulnerable, Schumer and Gillibrand said that immediately releasing the highest level of funding for New York would have a positive impact on the state’s economy. In 2014, economists Mark Zandi and Alan S. Blinder calculated that every dollar from LIHEAP produced $1.13 in economic activity. Because LIHEAP funds drive weatherization and other energy efficiency efforts, power grids across the state are benefitted by an increase in their use. With more efficient heating and cooling across Upstate, there is less overall demand on the grid and consumers across the board save on utility costs.
A copy of Schumer’s and Gillibrand’s initial letter to HHS appears below:
Dear Secretary Burwell:
As state agencies prepare their Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) programs for the winter, we respectfully request that the Department of Health and Human Services release LIHEAP funds as quickly and at as high of a level as possible under the current continuing resolution.
LIHEAP is the main federal program that helps low-income households and seniors with their energy bills, providing critical assistance during the cold winter and hot summer months. This funding has been an indispensable lifeline during challenging economic times, helping to ensure that recipients do not have to choose between paying their energy bills and paying for other necessities like food or medicine. On average, low-income families and seniors spend a higher proportion of their income on energy, and for many states, October marks the start of the heating season, creating an additional constraint on these household budgets.
As the relevant state agencies begin to provide assistance for this winter, it is critical that they have the resources to assist low-income households and seniors as soon as possible. Therefore, we request that you quickly release LIHEAP funds and at as high of a level as possible in order to allow states and low-income households to prepare for the upcoming season.
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.
Charles E. Schumer
United States Senator
United States Senator