Friday, July 29, 2011

LIHEAP: Left in the Cold

Do you have an elderly relative who lives on a fixed income? Do you know families with young children who are struggling to get through the cold winter months? Have you or someone close to you recently lost a job? For many Americans, the answer is yes. In the current state of the economy, and as the price of fuel rises, it is becoming increasingly difficult to afford home heating fuel. Next heating season, heating fuel prices are projected to rise, putting even more households at risk. There is one more thing putting our elderly grandparents, young children and struggling families at risk: the FY2012 LIHEAP budget. The proposed budget is calling for a 50% reduction in funding for LIHEAP; a reduction of this magnitude would have immediate and devastating effects.

In 2010, over 7.5 million low income households in the US would not have been able to make it through the winter if it were not for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). The mission of LIHEAP is to assist low income households, particularly those with the lowest incomes that pay the highest proportion of household income for home energy, primarily in meeting their immediate home energy needs. High heating bills can force people to lower the temperatures in their homes in order to save money. However, indoor temperatures can be lowered to unsafe levels, which can result in hypothermia (cold stress or low body temperatures). When that fuel runs out, assistance may be the only help. This is only part of the health and safety impact of LIHEAP.

The Heating System Repair and Replacement Program (HEARTWAP) is also funded through LIHEAP. The use of makeshift heating sources such as unvented or improperly vented portable heaters, barbecue grills or gas stoves, is not only a fire hazard which can result in fire deaths, but can also create the risk of asphyxiation (carbon monoxide poisoning). HEARTWAP emergency replacements help those with heating systems that fail in the winter, ensuring people are not left out in the cold. It also helps reduce the cost of heating by replacing inefficient heating systems with high efficiency systems, and keeps people safe by replacing unsafe systems, ensuring people are not exposed to high CO levels and the dangers of hazardous fuel leaking into basements or seeping into the ground.

LIHEAP funding includes more than just heating cost assistance; it has a positive impact on the economy. Heating technicians, plumbers and oil and gas vendors are able to service clients who would otherwise not be receiving service. Employing these vendors is keeping more people at work.

Fuel assistance (LIHEAP) and the energy conservation program HEARTWAP help those who are most vulnerable survive through the extreme winter months. They serve the elderly, handicapped, children and families, and employ local businesses. The proposed cut to LIHEAP will leave many out in the cold. It is time to let your representatives know that these programs must be saved. For more information on how you can reach you representatives, click here.