BOSTON – Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey today, July 31, joined a coalition of 35 attorneys general and state consumer advocate agencies in urging members of Congress to preserve and expand funding for critical low-income energy assistance programs for residents in Massachusetts and across the country.
In a letter sent to Congress today, the attorneys general and advocates conveyed the importance of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and Weatherization Assistance Program (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.
“Each year, tens of thousands of Massachusetts families struggle to make ends meet and come up with the money to pay their energy bills,” said Healey, in a statement. “We simply cannot allow Congress to slash funding for these critical programs that allow some of our most vulnerable residents to stay warm in the cold winter months.”
During the 2015–2016 winter, nearly 165,000 customers in Massachusetts received approximately $150 million in Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program benefits.
Annual distributions of Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program 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 6. 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.
“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 2017 alone, it is expected that about 6.1 million households nationwide will receive heating and cooling assistance through LIHEAP,” the letter states.
Likewise, WAP has served 7 million households over its 40-year lifespan. 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. WAP has helped develop an energy efficiency industry for low-income housing that includes workers and companies that assist low-income families increase their energy efficiency through low-cost measures. According to the state’s Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, an average of $4,500 in allowable energy efficiency measures is available for eligible Massachusetts households.
In their letter, the attorneys general and advocates note that anticipated funding for Fiscal Year 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 Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program 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 Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program funding, so that fewer families are “left out in the cold.”
The coalition who sent today’s letter was led by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and consisted of attorneys general and consumer advocate agencies from Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Florida, Hawaii, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia and Wyoming.