As the news locally of increased energy rates expected this winter, Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin urged members of Congress to preserve and expand the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) funding in the 2018 federal budget.
Kilmartin joined with 35 other attorneys general and state consumer advocate agencies in a bi-partisan effort in a letter to Congress today conveying the importance of LIHEAP and WAP to their states and expressing 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.
"Too many Rhode Island families struggle with high energy costs every winter, and this year it could be worse with an expected increase in electricity rates. LIHEAP has been a lifeline for many families, allowing them to keep warm during the cold winter months," said Attorney General Kilmartin. "I understand that difficult cuts have to be made to balance our federal budget, but LIHEAP should not be on the chopping block. To cut LIHEAP funds would force too many people to choose between rent, food, medicine and heat. That is a choice that no family should have to make," said Attorney General Kilmartin.
In the letter to Congress, the attorneys general stated, "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 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 several 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 attorneys general 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.
"New England has older housing stock, and through WAP, families have been able to improve the energy efficiency of their homes and reduce energy costs. WAP and LIHEAP go hand in hand to help struggling families provide a safe, efficient and warm place to live for their children and loved ones," added Kilmartin.
In addition to Attorney General Kilmartin, attorneys general and advocacy groups from the following states signed the letter: AZ, CA, CO, CT, DC, FL, HI, IA, IL, KS, KY, MA, ME, MD, MN, MS, MT, NH, NJ, NM, NY, OR, PA, UT, VT, WA, WV, and WY.