LIHEAP Impact on Communities of Color

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According to the United States Census Bureau, the national poverty rate in 2013 was 14.5 percent. In other words, approximately 45.3 million people in the United States live in poverty. Living in poverty can affect the health and safety of a household, especially when a family increasingly becomes unable to afford essential energy services.

Home energy is critically important on the coldest days of winter and the hottest days of summer. Without essential energy service, the very basics, such as staying warm, are in jeopardy. Additionally, energy service often provides necessary power for home medical devices and appliances used for safely storing and then cooking food.

The federal government has a long established energy assistance program to help our most vulnerable households heat and cool their homes. Created in 1981, the Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) assists seniors, the disabled, and the poor to meet home heating energy needs and avoid the harsh reality of deciding whether to buy food or heat their home.

Unlike other eligibility-based programs, LIHEAP is not an entitlement program. Available benefits are limited by the amount Congress appropriates.

While LIHEAP is widely considered an efficient and effective program, LIHEAP funding has fallen well short of the need. States, tribes, and territories that administer programs under LIHEAP are only able to provide assistance to a small portion of those who qualify.

The proportion of those living in poverty is disproportionately greater within communities of color. The poverty rate for African Americans is roughly 25.8 percent, followed closely by Hispanics at 23.2 percent. Given that appropriations for LIHEAP only fund a portion of the need, the risk of energy insecurity and the choice between heating the home or having food on the table is more prevalent in these communities.

Because the number of households eligible for LIHEAP is far greater than those able to be served, taking action to advocate for LIHEAP funding and ensure the continued effectiveness of the program is vital to the people and families of these communities.

See the complete report here