Energy Partnerships Blog

LIHEAP Action Month: LIHEAP and Energy Equity

August is the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) Action Month and there is no better time than now – with the hottest temperatures last month in recorded history – to make sure you get the word out about the importance of this critical program and the Community Action Agencies (CAAs) that administer it.  More than 500 CAAs nationwide offer programs such as LIHEAP and the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) to help families with their energy bills.  And those CAAs that do not administer these programs will regularly refer customers to partner organizations that do.

Each year, LIHEAP reaches approximately 6 million households nationwide that need heating and/or cooling assistance.  Households with young children, elderly individuals, those with disabilities or significant energy needs are prioritized – representing over 90% of LIHEAP households.

A lesser known fact about LIHEAP is that in addition to utility assistance payments, the program also funds longer-term energy savings.  Connecting up with the Department of Energy’s WAP, LIHEAP is a key partner in helping Community Action Agencies and other WAP providers offer a more comprehensive, ‘whole house’ approach.  This includes repairing or replacing heating and cooling systems as needed.

Current funding levels for LIHEAP, however, only allow enough funding to reach just one out of every five eligible households.  More systemic changes are necessary to help ease the financial difficulty LIHEAP families and others face when trying to keep up with their utility bills.

A recent report from the National Consumer Law Center explains that “even though households with the least means are using the least energy, they are shouldering the greatest energy burdens – or the percentage of total household income that goes toward energy costs.”  And having high energy burdens often requires households to make difficult decisions, such as whether to pay for food or pay for utilities.

One LIHEAP provider, Fulton Atlanta Community Action Authority, or FACAA, hears these sort of struggles every day.  Several years back, Dr. Joyce Dorsey, President and CEO of FACAA, decided it was time to take further action and help change the system that was holding too many people back.  LIHEAP customers from FACAA, the Partnership for Southern Equity and others in the greater Atlanta metropolitan area have banded together through monthly “Just Energy Circles”— including community members, technical experts and advocates – to vision more equitable energy policy and co-create clean energy solutions that benefit everyone.  PSE defines “energy equity” as the “fair distribution of benefits and burdens from energy production and consumption.”

Signs of this coalition’s success include a recent decision by the Georgia Public Service Commission which shows “important, incremental steps toward helping low-income customers save on their electric bills,” explains Nathaniel Smith, Chief Equity Officer of the Partnership for Southern Equity.  Smith adds “But because the problem of energy burden in Georgia is so vast, this should be viewed as only the beginning of a much larger push to help burdened customers.”

LIHEAP provides a strong foundation for energy equity, and coalitions like this in Georgia offer hope for a more equitable future.  Let’s make sure to get the word out about the impact of LIHEAP not only this month, but year-round.

*See the National Energy and Utility Affordability Coalition LIHEAP Action Month Toolkit which will help you with grassroots efforts, including messaging, data, and ideas to amplify the message about the critical need for LIHEAP.

*Join Dr. Dorsey and colleagues from Partnership for Southern Equity at the upcoming Community Action Partnership National Convention, August 28-30 in Chicago.  They will talk in more detail about their work on energy equity during a general session, along with national thought leaders from the New Consensus.

*The Weatherization Leveraged Partnerships Project is funded by the Department of Energy to offer training and assistance to Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) subgrantees and their associations in designing private partnerships and programs that leverage the WAP.  We can facilitate connections to experienced peers, assist in data collection, messaging, and in helping get things off the ground.