Sen. Markey, Rep. Bowman introduce bill to expand LIHEAP program

Published on January 25, 2022 by Dave Kovaleski

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U.S. Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA) and U.S. Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) introduced legislation that would expand the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).

Their bill – the Heating and Cooling Relief Act – seeks to open this energy assistance program up to more people as it is currently only eligible to only 16 percent of households.

Specifically, the bill 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. Also, it minimizes the barriers to administering and applying LIHEAP by allowing households to self-attest to eligibility criteria.

In addition, it ensures 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;

“Access to life-saving heating and cooling is a basic human right that ensures our health and safety and should not be reserved only for those who can afford it,” Markey said. “This winter, families should not have to choose between paying energy bills or suffering chills. I am grateful that Congressman Bowman and I are fighting to make sure that home energy funding—a critical lifeline for families throughout the country—will be available to all of those who need it.”

The legislation also increases funding for cooling assistance and seeks to ensure that households can access utility assistance during major disasters. Also, it increases funding made available for weatherization through LIHEAP. Finally, it establishes a new Just Transition Grant for states and localities to help reduce energy burdens for LIHEAP-eligible households and promote renewable energy usage.

“Senator Markey and I are working toward an America that respects our collective humanity, and our Heating and Cooling Relief Act makes it so that every family can afford their energy bills. This is a racial and economic justice issue, with Black, Latino, and Indigenous households all experiencing disproportionately high energy burdens. The lack of energy assistance is also a public health crisis, with high energy burdens associated with a greater risk for respiratory diseases and heat strokes,” Bowman said

The bill is endorsed by the 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, and the Association for Energy Affordability, among others.

“The Heating and Cooling Relief act would end energy poverty in the US by providing that no family would spend more than 3 percent of their family’s budget on home energy and would provide states with the flexibility to weatherize up to 1 million homes per year,” Mark Wolfe, executive director of NEADA, said.