White House looks to rescue plan funding to ease burden of high heating costs

The White House is seen from the Washington Monument on Friday, September 24, 2021.
Greg Nash

The White House is encouraging states to quickly distribute assistance that was included in President Biden’s sweeping $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief law passed in March to lessen the burden of higher energy bills this winter.

The White House distributed a fact sheet Thursday emphasizing that the coronavirus relief law, known as the American Rescue Plan, added $4.5 billion in funding to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, that is available through September 2022. The average annual funding for the program is between $3 billion and $4 billion, according to the White House.

The Biden administration is urging state, local and tribal governments to “prepare early” to distribute the expanded assistance to more families to offset the higher heating costs due to rising gas prices.

According to the fact sheet, the administration is offering technical assistance to state and local governments receiving the funds from the program in order to speed up planning to distribute the assistance ahead of the winter season.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is also encouraging grantees to expedite payments to households that have received LIHEAP funding in the past and to simplify the process through which low-income households are deemed eligible for the assistance.

As part of the effort, the White House is hosting a virtual meeting Thursday afternoon during which Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra, rescue plan coordinator Gene Sperling and other top officials will discuss how to distribute the assistance with a group of governors and utility and fuel industry representatives.

Additionally, the Biden administration is calling on utilities to commit to “proactively” using their resources to ensure low-income customers are provided relief. Companies including DTE Energy, Eversource, National Grid, NorthWestern Energy and Portland General Electric have agreed to help identify and notify customers who are eligible for public benefits.

Thursday’s announcement represents the latest effort by the White House to demonstrate that officials are working to address rising costs of goods and services as inflation spikes. Costs have risen as the economy has reopened amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Granholm said earlier this month that Americans should expect to pay more to heat their homes this winter, insisting that Biden is seeking to find “immediate-term and the long-term” solutions to address the rise in gas prices.

The Energy Information Administration predicted in late October that U.S. households would pay more for propane, heating oil, electricity and natural gas this winter.

Data released earlier this month showed that heating oil costs alone have more than doubled in the last year. Other sources of heat have seen less sharp spikes in costs.

Separately, Biden on Wednesday called on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether oil companies are illegally increasing fuel prices, as Americans see an increase in the cost of gasoline at the pump.

Republicans have attacked Biden over inflation, arguing that his economic policies — including the proposed $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan — are to blame for the spike in costs of goods and services.

–Updated at 10:33 a.m.

Tags energy costs Federal assistance in the United States Jennifer Granholm Joe Biden Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program Xavier Becerra

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