WASHINGTON, D.C. – As winter temperatures and the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have dramatically increased requests for utility bill assistance, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) joined Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) and 42 other senators in seeking a significant boost in funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) in the next pandemic relief package.

LIHEAP is a federally funded program that helps low-income households pay their home energy bills. The Washington State Department of Commerce administers the program by transferring federal LIHEAP funds to local community action agencies and municipalities who assist families throughout the state. In Fiscal Year 2019, more than $42 million was distributed to provide assistance to more than 67,422 Washington households. For families who received assistance through the program, the average benefit was $434. Nationwide, state energy officials have identified a need for an additional $10 billion in LIHEAP funds to serve 11 million families, including families newly eligible for the program.

“The LIHEAP program is well-positioned to quickly respond to, and support the needs of, millions of American households affected by the COVID-19 pandemic who are struggling to heat their homes this winter and cool their homes next summer,” the senators wrote in their letter to congressional leadership. “State energy officials have reported that they are ready to move additional LIHEAP funds quickly and have identified a need for an additional $10 billion to serve 11 million families, including newly-eligible households.”

The letter continues: “Across the nation, utilities are reporting significant increases in the number of families falling behind on their utility bills. The National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association estimates that 15 to 20 percent of residential customers are at least 60 days behind on their electric and natural gas bills.”

“LIHEAP assistance is an indispensable lifeline, helping to ensure that recipients do not have to choose between paying their energy bills and affording other necessities like food and medicine. Yet the annual funding for LIHEAP is only able to provide benefits to approximately one in six eligible households. We appreciate the $900 million included in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act for LIHEAP, but those funds are now fully obligated and additional funding is necessary to help the newly unemployed with their growing bills.”