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2004 Policy Positions
of the Southern Legislative Conference

1.  Policy Position in Support of Reform and Full Funding of the Federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)


BACKGROUND

The Southern Legislative Conference, Southern Governors’ Association (SGA) and the Southern States Energy Board (SSEB) have longstanding shared interests in the Federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).  LIHEAP was created to assist low-income households in meeting their home energy needs, and to protect the health and safety of citizens living throughout the United States.  LIHEAP is insufficiently funded, currently providing assistance to only 15 percent of eligible Americans.  Additionally, low-income working poor and fixed-income elderly Americans are now confronting significantly higher energy bills due to rising natural gas prices.  These consumers already pay a much higher proportion of household income for energy costs than do average consumers.  Thus, increases in energy prices hit low-income Americans disproportionately harder. As presently configured, LIHEAP compounds this problem by utilizing an outdated formula weighted toward cold weather regions, which places undue emphasis upon heating, effectively penalizing warm weather climes. 

Deaths and injuries from extreme hot weather are far greater than mortality and injuries attributable to extreme cold.  For example, heat resulted in almost 20 times more deaths than extreme cold between1998 and 2000 in the United States.  Home cooling protects against heat-related deaths and injuries.  However, this safeguard often is unaffordable because the energy burden of cooling the homes of our neediest eligible residents approaches 30 percent of their total household income.

LIHEAP’s outdated formula is utilized when the program’s national appropriations are below $1.975 billion and relies upon population, energy consumption and price statistics from the 1930s to the early 1980s.   

A better methodology exists within LIHEAP’s “new” formula, which guides the distribution of funds when federal appropriations exceed $1.975 billion.  The “new” formula utilizes the latest state-specific population, income and energy price statistics, and accommodates price anomalies that the outdated formula ignores.  Federal LIHEAP appropriations have averaged $1.5 billion over the last 23 years. The current $1.975 billion trigger is almost never reached.  As a result, the “new” formula has been activated only twice since the program’s inception.  LIHEAP can be re-energized to provide equitable funding for Southern states by either significantly increasing funding and/or realistically adjusting the program’s trigger point to activate the “new” formula. The Weatherization Assistance Program, LIHEAP’s companion program, is designed to enable eligible households to improve the long-term energy efficiency of their housing.

RECOMMENDATION

The Southern Legislative Conference of The Council of State Governments joins SGA, SSEB and others in urging Congress and the president to pursue improvements to ensure that today’s neediest, eligible Americans are truly helped to meet their home energy needs by:

  • Significantly increasing LIHEAP appropriations to ensure continuous use of the “new” formula, thereby utilizing the latest energy price and poverty population data available rather than outdated information that is increasingly irrelevant;
  • Reforming the trigger mechanism or altering the formula in order to achieve a more equitable distribution of resources; and
  • Increasing funding for LIHEAP’s companion federal Weatherization Assistance Program in order to permanently cut energy consumption, energy bills and pollution alike, and achieve significant long-term structural reform and energy efficiencies.

 Furthermore, the Southern Legislative Conference of The Council of State Governments urges that copies of this policy position be forwarded to the president of the United States; leaders in the U. S. House of Representatives and U. S. Senate; members of the Southern congressional delegation; secretaries of the U. S. Departments of Energy and Health & Human Services; and governors of the 16-member states of the Southern Legislative Conference.

 

Adopted by the Southern Legislative Conference, August 18, 2004, Little Rock, Arkansas.

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