While Congress has left town to spend the rest of the summer heat in their home districts, President Trump has yet to budge the thermometer on funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP.
LIHEAP, a federal program that provides federally-funded assistance in managing costs associated with home energy bills, energy crises, or weatherization improvements, has been slated for zero funding in President Trump’s fiscal year 2018 budget. Baltimore cannot afford to have the energy needs of its most disadvantaged residents occupying a low-priority status on the President’s agenda.
Our conclusion that aiding the energy insecure is a low priority for the Trump Administration is not only evidenced by the president’s budget proposal released earlier this year, but also by his failing to consider the counsel of the Congressional Black Caucus last spring regarding LIHEAP. In a March meeting, members of the CBC requested that President Trump prioritize funding for LIHEAP. His subsequent budget proposal to zero out funding for the program, sent a clear signal that energy security for low-income households was not on his mind.
In fiscal year 2010, $4.51 billion was distributed to LIHEAP participants. By 2016, distribution to LIHEAP participants had decreased to $3.4 billion. So far in fiscal year 2017, distribution is at $3.01 billion. The decrease in LIHEAP funding is a millstone around the necks of Baltimore’s poor, further forcing tough decisions between paying the rent, buying food, or keeping the lights on.
This is why the Baltimore Ministers Conference, under the leadership of President Bishop James Carter, supports the Energy Equity Alliance’s initiatives to educate and advocate on LIHEAP and the importance it plays in our communities. LIHEAP’s importance is compounded by Baltimore’s poverty rate of 22.7%–a clear indication that a significant number of our fellow citizens need our support.
It is time for a call for action. Although Congress is considering funding LIHEAP in fiscal year 2018 at current levels, we do not believe that this is enough. Congress’ proposed $3.4 billion fiscal 2018 funding would mean three years of flat funding for a program that sees increasing demand for services.
It is time for citizens and representatives of Congress to use the August recess to discuss LIHEAP. Call or write your congressman. Go to scheduled town hall meetings. Set up an appointment for you and your neighbors to speak with your congressman.
Joe Gibbons is a former Florida State Representative and the Chairman of the Energy Equity Alliance. The Rev. Dr. A.C.D. Vaughn is the Pastor of Sharon Baptist Church in Baltimore.