For many struggling families, higher prices can mean being forced to choose between heat, food or medication. About 29% of Americans who were surveyed had to reduce or forego expenses for basic household necessities to pay an energy bill in the last year, according to the US Census Bureau
. And that was before natural gas prices started to rise.
Congress should view these higher prices as a wake-up call. It should increase funding for federal programs, such as the Weatherization Assistance Program
(WAP), that help to increase the energy efficiency of low- and moderate-income housing. WAP has a proven record of reducing annual household heating consumption by 18% and saving households an average of $283 in energy bills annually.
Congress should also authorize the Clean Energy and Sustainability Accelerator
, a national green bank, to start pilot programs in low- to moderate-income communities. Currently under consideration as part of the reconciliation bill, the bank would help finance clean energy projects in disadvantaged communities, which could save households money, improve public health and reduce emissions.
I represent the state directors of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program
(LIHEAP), which provides heating and cooling assistance to more than six million low-income households. Congress should increase LIHEAP’s funding
to $5.1 billion from the current funding level
of about $3.8 billion. The additional $1.3 billion in funding would allow states to increase grants to cover higher costs associated with natural gas this winter, as well as cover higher costs associated with rising heating oil and propane prices.
Congress can also provide a supplemental grant to Americans who rely on Social Security for all their income, and increase the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit to families with incomes below the federal poverty line.
These are the right things to do. The federal government should step in and help struggling families when national and global market conditions are making essential commodities even more difficult to afford.