National Energy Assistance Directors Association calls on Congress to maintain LIHEAP funding levels

Published on February 26, 2024 by Chris Galford

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Working on behalf of the state directors of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), the National Energy Assistance Directors Association (NEADA) recently urged Congress to add funds to the base program to keep household support from being cut.

As of FY 2023, LIHEAP funding let states serve 7.1 million households – a record number for the program’s history. This came in the face of increasingly high costs of home heating and cooling nationwide, as cold temperatures surged and utility arrearages likewise reached record levels. To maintain this, NEADA contended that funding would need to hold steady at $6.1 billion for FY 2024 – something that would require an additional $2 billion to the base program funding level. Without, 1.4 million families would be cut from the program.

For NEADA, this has become more pressing in the years since the COVID-19 pandemic began, as average home heating costs jumped 16.5 percent across all fuel types – a leap from $725 to $868. That has made more homes dependent on energy assistance to avoid falling into debt with their utilities, and yet, current Congressional budget proposals have proposed reducing the level of LIHEAP funding by $2 billion. Not only would this cut the number of people served, it would likely lead to cuts of program benefits and eliminate cooling programs outright.

Debt is already an outstanding issue in this area anyway, with NEADA reporting more than one out of six households as behind on their energy bills. In fact, the national arrearage balance rose to $20.3 billion by the end of 2023. Between December 2021 and December 2023, gas arrearages jumped from $4.19 billion to $5.81 billion, while electric arrearages leapt from $10.44 billion to $14.49 billion over the same period.

That’s led to 17.3 percent of all households reporting being unable to pay their energy bills at least once in the last year, leading to as many as 26.7 percent foregoing other necessities to stay current and 17.1 percent keeping their homes at unsafe temperatures to pay their energy bills, according to the Census Bureau. With less funding support, those numbers will likely only rise from here.