Citizens from across our nation descended on Capitol Hill yesterday with a clear message for lawmakers: for millions of American households struggling to pay their energy bills, a fully-funded Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) is as critical in the dog days of summer as it is in the frigid winter months.
“Record numbers of our fellow citizens have suffered this summer,” said Marsha Belcher, of the Community and Economic Development Association of Cook County (CEDA), and chair of the National Fuel Funds Network (NFFN) Board of Directors. 2012 has seen an unprecedented number of heat-related deaths in the United States. “We are here because we want to help those families afford the energy they need to stay cool.”
After gathering at the headquarters of the American Gas Association, 65 LIHEAP advocates met with Congressional members and their staff from approximately 100 offices for almost seven hours to present their case and discuss why, even in tight budget times, energy assistance is for our nation’s most vulnerable and it must not be sacrificed. AGA joins these advocates in the belief that Congress should appropriate at least $5.1 billion in Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 for LIHEAP funding.
LIHEAP helps those who truly need the assistance. Here are the facts:
- About 75 percent of LIHEAP households earn less than $15,000 a year.
- 50 percent earn less than $10,000.
- Almost all recipient households support someone who is disabled, elderly, or have a child under 6.
- More than 40 percent of recipients are seniors living on fixed incomes.
- 20 percent of LIHEAP recipients are veterans.
Patty Riddlebarger, of Entergy Corporation, said speaking with policymakers and telling themabout the people behind the LIHEAP numbers was “a positively inspirational experience.”
“Hearing the stories about the struggles of families in need and their courage in the face of hardships we can only imagine makes all the difference in helping our elected officials understand the significant impact that their support for LIHEAP can have on our neighbors in need,” she said.
LIHEAP is an effective, life-saving program. When LIHEAP was funded at its highest level in FY09 and FY10, that $5.1 billion helped about 8.9 million households, or about 23 million people. Still, that only assisted one out of five eligible Americans.
Now, the need for LIHEAP is greater than ever. Poverty and unemployment are at historic levels, increasing the number of households eligible for assistance. The number of veteran households seeking LIHEAP aid has jumped 150 percent since FY08. For more than half of America’s households, energy bills account for more than 20 percent of their budget. For those making less than $10,000 a year, energy costs eat up over 75 percent of their income. These homes must make tough choices, possibly sacrificing other needs in order to pay their utility bills.
Congress is proposing $3.47 billion and the Administration is proposing just $3.02 billion for FY13 for this crucial life-saving program. All in attendance agreed that these proposals fall woefully short of what is needed.
The day culminated with a presentation of the NFFN Extra Mile award to Congressman Gene Green of Texas. The award recognizes those who demonstrate exemplary leadership and strong support for increased LIHEAP funding by taking extra steps to speak out in a congressional committee or on the House floor, securing legislation, generating media coverage, or more.
AGA was proud to provide a “home away from home” for these advocates as they continue the fight for this important program.