WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) joined 27 Senate colleagues in sending a bipartisan letter to the Trump Administration urging them to quickly release $900 million in Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) funding that Congress included in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. As the economic impact of the coronavirus spreads, the senators say it is critical to help low-income families and seniors who are struggling to make ends meet. LIHEAP has proven to be effective and can get money into the hands of people who have already been vetted and approved for assistance.

The senators are also demanding that the Trump Administration release the $37 million that the White House transferred from the program earlier this year to offset the cost of coronavirus response.

Congress passed a bill on March 6 that was signed into law (P.L. 116-123) that fully replenished any money transferred from LIHEAP.  But the Trump Administration has yet to release the funds.

In a letter to U.S Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar, 28 senators urged HHS to immediately distribute the emergency funds to states so they can be disbursed by authorized, local non-profit organizations that deliver social services, community health, and housing assistance to low-income, elderly, and those with disabilities across the country.

“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,” the senators wrote.  “As the economic impact of the coronavirus spreads, it will disproportionately hit low-wage workers who often live paycheck to paycheck.  In most states, traditional unemployment only covers a portion of a worker’s average weekly wages.  For these workers, working from home is not an option and a missed paycheck could have a significant impact on their finances.”

The letter was led by Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Susan Collins (R-ME) and was also signed by U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) Patty Murray (D-WA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Ed Markey (D-WA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Mark Warner (D-VA), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Angus King (I-ME), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Gary Peters (D-OH), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Bob Casey (D-PA), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Chris Coons (D-DE), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Bernie Sanders (D-VT).

The senators also expressed concerns that, according to the National Energy Assistance Directors' Association (NEADA), states do not have sufficient funds to provide assistance to those losing their jobs and that many states are reporting no surplus of funds or extremely limited funding available. 

Brown has long been a supporter of LIHEAP, previously urging both the Trump and Obama administrations to release funds for the program. In February, he introduced the ASSET Act to eliminate asset limits as a means of eligibility for three vital public assistance programs, including LIHEAP, and raise asset limits for a fourth program.

A copy of the full letter is available here and below:

 

March 31, 2020

The Honorable Alex M. Azar II
Secretary U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
330 C Street, SW
Washington, D.C. 20416

Dear Secretary Azar:

We respectfully request that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) release the $900 million provided by Congress for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act as quickly as possible.  In addition, we are deeply concerned that HHS has not yet released the $37 million in LIHEAP funds that Congress restored in the first coronavirus supplemental (P.L. 116-123) and urge you to do so immediately.  Together, these funds will provide assistance to approximately three million low-income households when they need it most.

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.  As the economic impact of the coronavirus spreads, it will disproportionately hit low-wage workers who often live paycheck to paycheck.  In most states, traditional unemployment only covers a portion of a worker’s average weekly wages.  For these workers, working from home is not an option and a missed paycheck could have a significant impact on their finances.  Furthermore, LIHEAP provides a crucial safety net to protect our nation’s seniors.  In fiscal year 2019, LIHEAP provided heating assistance to more than two million senior households, representing 40 percent of the total households served. 

According to the National Energy Assistance Directors' Association (NEADA), states do not have sufficient funds to provide assistance to those losing their jobs.  Many states are reporting no surplus of funds or extremely limited funding available.  Claims will increase as families struggle to pay their utility bills at the end of the month.  Already some areas are reporting that requests for assistance have tripled.  Releasing this funding now is critical for state and community organizations to be able to support these families and seniors during this time and provide some measure of stability by assisting with the costs of utilities to keep the lights and heat on and people in their homes.

As states continue to provide assistance to people in need, it is crucial that they have the resources to assist low-income households and seniors as soon as possible.  We request that you quickly release all LIHEAP funds in order to allow states to provide this vital assistance.  We look forward to continuing to work with you on this critical program, and thank you for your attention to our concerns and those of our constituents.

Sincerely,