Energy is an essential component of our day-to-day lives. We use it to cook our food, stay warm in the winter and cool our homes in the summer. But home energy prices have risen during the pandemic while more people are struggling to just get by. For too long, lower-income American families have been forced to choose between paying their home energy bill and paying for food, medicine and other essentials.
That’s hopefully about to change. On Thursday, Senator Ed Markey and Rep. Jamaal Bowman introduced the Heating and Cooling Relief Act, with the specific purpose of ending energy poverty in this country. The bill would significantly increase funding for the government’s Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). LIHEAP, which I represent, helps low- and moderate-income families pay their home energy bills. Currently, LIHEAP can only reach between about 16% and 18% of eligible families due to underfunding.
Other approaches have helped families pay their energy bills, but they have either stalled or have been severely underfunded. The enhanced child tax credit provides monthly payments to families to help them raise their children, but it expired at the end of 2021. The program had been extremely successful. In fact, an analysis of Census Bureau data last year by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that 91% of families with incomes of less than $35,000 used their funds for basic expenses, including utility bills. A proposal in the Build Back Better bill would extend the credit for another year, but that bill has been stalled in the Senate.