The first day of summer is approaching, and so too will its accompanying hot, humid weather. Throughout most of the United States we get hot summers and cold winters, and during both of those peaks, utility bills can become unaffordable. Thankfully, there is a ray of hope for those in need. Since 1981, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) has supported millions of families in need of immediate energy assistance to either heat or cool their residences. Earlier this month, the federal government released an additional $33 million in LIHEAP funding.
Despite popular arguments, LIHEAP is not an entitlement program. Unlike entitlement programs, LIHEAP is for families who just need a hand-up. Eligible families must meet the federally-set income threshold at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level - a meager $36,000 for a family of four - or 60 percent of the state median income. States, tribes, and territories administer LIHEAP and are allowed to decide the value and distribution of benefits. Unfortunately, because of our economy, there is far greater demand than funds available. According to the most-recent data, the program was able to serve less than one out of five LIHEAP-eligible households.
The number of families in need of assistance is growing; however, the federal government has drastically cut the program over the years. Between 2010 and 2013, funding was decreased by almost $2 billion - from $5.1 billion to $3.2 billion. These cuts can have a crippling effect on the communities that are in need of support. It is important to remember that most LIHEAP dollars go to the most vulnerable among us - elderly households, the disabled, or families with small children. LIHEAP is for those who otherwise would have to choose whether to cool their homes or have healthy meals for their families.
Why is this program being cut and who is responsible? Our elected officials are in the driver's seat, so funding these programs is up to them; but it is up to us the voters to hold them accountable. Citizens from all communities should be concerned, for we all have had a need for help at least once. This is a call to action for our houses of worship and those who work with the poor and anyone who cares about their fellow citizens.
Join me in calling on our officials to do what is right. Groups like the Energy Equity Alliance (www.energyequityalliance.org) are working to build support for more fair and equitable energy policies. In this case, some simple funding will make a big difference to these lives that matter too.
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