LIHEAP to help record 1.2 million households pay for cooling this year

Published on September 08, 2021 by Chris Galford

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The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) is projected to help some 1.2 million poor households pay their cooling bills this summer, shattering the record for the most families the program has helped annually, and leaping 46 percent over 2020 figures.

The news was reported from the National Energy Assistance Directors Association (NEADA), which represents the state directors of the LIHEAP program. That program has been helping families pay their heating and cooling bills for 40 years. In terms of the new summer-induced record, though, NEADA points a finger to climate change, noting that the need for home cooling is increasing as summer temperatures continue to regularly rise. That, the state directors say, affects low-income communities most of all.

Having air conditioners is, after all, only half the battle. NEADA reports that struggling households will often go without if they fear being unable to pay their monthly bills. In fact, the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey estimated that 35.4 million American households, 18.5 percent, kept their homes at unsafe or unhealthy temperatures for at least one month this year, leaving people vulnerable to heat stroke or even death. Worse: nearly one in five poor families reportedly do not even have access to air conditioning, compared to 11.6 percent of the rest of the population.

NEADA is working on a national project to support providing high efficiency air conditioners for low-income families, along with additional energy assistance, but that’s only fixing part of the problem. For those that do decide to embrace the cooler air, the same Pulse survey found that nearly a third of American households have reduced or skipped basic household necessities such as medicine or food to make sure energy bills can be paid.

Despite the increased threat of climate change, NEADA reports that LIHEAP remains severely underfunded, having enough cash to help only about one out of six eligible families. For those it can help, it can cover about 50 percent of home heating costs, but is unable to also cover a similar percentage of cooling costs or the recommended air conditioning equipment for families in need.