U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand brought her call for robust Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, funding in the next coronavirus relief package to Albany Friday.
Gillibrand came to Lincoln Park to say low-income households and seniors must be given critical assistance now. She says nearly 60,000 families in the Albany area relied on LIHEAP funding before COVID hit, and now the economic crisis caused by the pandemic has put an unprecedented financial burden on New Yorkers, millions juggling household budgets to keep their homes and apartments heated.
"Over the past few weeks, winter storms have truly wrecked havoc all across communities in our state and across the country. And has we've tragically seen with the storms in Texas this week, not having heat in the cold is really a matter of life and death. But keeping the heat on comes at a cost. And often that's a cost that families cannot bear. Low income households in New York can spend more than $2,700 a year on energy bills. That accounts for nearly 13% of their income. Finding room in the budget to pay those bills has been difficult in an ordinary year. But in this last year of COVID, it's an even greater challenge and beyond people's capability.”
While the CARES Act dedicated $900 million in emergency LIHEAP funding last year, state energy officials estimate significant emergency supplemental funding is needed to help financially strained households pay their energy bills and stay safe throughout the winter.
"LIHEAP now needs additional funding to help the families relying on this program for this winter. That's why I called for the next COVID relief package to have an additional $4.5 billion of funding. This Senate relief package must keep that funding that is now in the house bill. The goal of the relief package is to meet this moment and meet the demand where the need is. Right now, for a lot of families, their biggest most urgent life and death issue is keeping heat in their homes. LIHEAP is well positioned to rapidly respond to this need and to be able to help families in this urgent time."
Gillibrand pointed out that 94 percent of Albany Housing Authority residents qualify for the LIHEAP program. Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan is a fellow Democrat:
"This pandemic continues to disproportionately impact our most vulnerable residents and those struggling to make ends meet. There is only enough heat for one in every six people who are eligible. So think about that. There's a pool of money. If you're eligible, you're supposed to be able to access it and there's only enough money for one in six. That is a really huge challenge for the city of Albany."
Sheehan says city hall has been fielding calls from residents worried about their heat getting shut off, directing them to the LIHEAP program. Gillibrand cited National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association statistics, which say one in five homes in the country is at least 60 days behind on electric and gas bills.