The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program is a federal block grant that assists low-income households with energy costs by providing funding to the 50 states and other jurisdictions to operate home energy assistance programs. New legislation, the Warm in Winter and Cool in Summer Act (S. 3186/H.R. 6427), was introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) earlier this year. It has 41 Senate cosponors. If passed, it would reach the authorized funding level for LIHEAP with more than $2.5 billion in additional funding for fiscal year 2008. A by-the-numbers look at the current state of LIHEAP funding makes clear that this funding is needed to help vulnerable households pay their energy bills and prevent families from having to cut spending on necessities.
Many Households Qualify, Few Receive Assistance
38 million: The number of households that meet the federal income requirement for LIHEAP, which is up to 150 percent of the federal poverty level, or $30,326 for a family of four.
5.8 million or 15.6 percent: The percentage of eligible households who received LIHEAP funding in fiscal year 2007.
1.6 million: Increase in the number of households receiving some form of LIHEAP assistance from FY 2002 to FY 2007, from 4.2 million to about 5.8 million.
15 percent: The percentage of yearly income that LIHEAP households spend on home energy bills, compared to just 3.4 percent for other households.
94 percent: The percentage of households that receive LIHEAP assistance who report having at least one family member who is elderly, disabled, or a child under 18.
Funding Is Inadequate
93.6 percent: The estimated percentage increase in an average heating oil bill from FY2003 to FY2008, from $951 to $1,841.
50 percent: The estimated percentage increase in an average natural gas bill from FY2003 to FY2008, from $600 to $900.
13.6 percent: The estimated percentage decline from FY2003 to FY2008 in how much of a family's annual home heating oil bill a LIHEAP grant covered. The grants could cover 36.7 percent of costs in 2003, but covered only 23.1 percent in 2008.
10.9 percent: The estimated percentage decline from FY2003 to FY2008 in how much of a family's annual natural gas bill a LIHEAP grant covered. The grants could cover 58.2 percent of costs in 2003, but covered only 47.3 percent in 2008.
How Rising Energy Costs Affect Low-Income Families
31 percent: The percentage of low-income households who report maintaining unsafe or unhealthy home temperatures in order to lower energy bills, according to a recent report by The National Energy Assistance Directors' Association.
70 percent: The percentage of low-income households who report reducing spending on food because of high energy costs.
31 percent: The percentage of low-income households who have reduced spending on medicine because of increased energy prices.
29 percent: Percentage of low-income homes that report risking loss of home energy service due to skipped or partial energy bill payments.
Energy Costs Will Continue to Rise
5.2 percent: Percentage residential electricity prices are expected to increase in 2008. This is compared to 2.2 percent in 2007.
9.8 percent: Percentage residential electricity prices are expected to increase in 2009.
48.6 percent: The increase in heating oil cost from 2007-08.
President Bush Has Proposed Cuts to LIHEAP for 2009
$570 million: Proposed cut, by President George W. Bush, to The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program for FY2009. This is a 22 percent cut from FY2008, even before adjusting for changes in energy prices.
Record high energy costs are only expected to soar higher this year and next. Yet states are unable to provide the much-needed aid that low-income Americans need to keep their homes and families safe because federal funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program has been unable to keep up with rising costs. What's more, because of rising costs, there are more families applying for assistance.
The Warm in Winter and Cool in Summer Act is an important step toward helping the increasing number of struggling households and preventing them from having to make the choice between food and electricity.