Attorney General Janet Mills and Maine Public Advocate Barry Hobbins today joined with 34 other attorney generals and state consumer advocate agencies to urge members of Congress to preserve and expand Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) funding in the 2018 federal budget.
In a letter submitted to Congress today, the attorney generals and advocates conveyed the importance of LIHEAP and WAP to their states and expressed opposition to the proposed elimination or reduction of their funding within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s Office of Community Services budget.
“Since 1981, LIHEAP has helped millions of vulnerable residents retain essential utility service, thereby protecting public health and safety, reducing homelessness and ensuring the stability of utility revenues. In Fiscal Year (“FY”) 2017 alone, it is expected that about 6.1 million households nationwide will receive heating and cooling assistance through LIHEAP. The Program operates in every state and the District of Columbia, as well as on most tribal reservations and U.S. territories,” the attorneys general stated in their letter.
In 2016, 32,204 households in Maine received LIHEAP benefits totaling $21,347,169. The amount of assistance received by a household is determined by the household size and income, and specific energy costs. This funding is critical to ensure that low-income households can afford their heating and cooling. The attorneys general and advocates emphasized the role both LIHEAP and WAP play in aiding low-income residents in paying for their home energy costs. Annual distributions of LIHEAP funds specifically prioritize seniors and families with small children. Seventy percent of recipient households have at least one member who is elderly or disabled, or have a child under the age of six. The attorneys general and advocates argue that without this vital assistance, many of these families would be faced with the impossible choice of opting between heating and cooling their homes, and paying for other necessities, such as food and medications.
Likewise, the Weatherization Assistance Program has served 7 million households over 40 years. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that WAP has helped low-income households reduce their total energy expenditures by 23 percent per year, allowing participating households to allocate scarce resources for other necessities.
The attorney generals and advocates note that anticipated funding for FY 2017 does not come close to meeting the extraordinary need for either of these funds. According to the National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association, only 19 percent of eligible households are expected to be served. Since 2010, congressional funding for LIHEAP has fallen by more than a third. This decrease in funding has resulted in more than one million fewer eligible households receiving critical energy assistance. The attorneys general urge Congress to restore and increase LIHEAP funding, so that fewer families are “left out in the cold.”
“LIHEAP and WAP funds have provided a critical lifeline to customers who struggle each month to pay for life’s necessities by assisting them to remain connected to essential utility services. We strongly urge you to oppose any measure that would reduce or eliminate funding for these critical programs, and instead increase these essential and cost-effective services,” the letter concluded.