New Survey Finds More Households Can’t Pay their Energy Bills 11 States & DC Out of Energy Assistance Funds by the End of February

Contact: Mark Wolfe
Phone: 202-237-5199
Date: February 20, 2002

WASHINGTON, DC — Pointing to a recent surge in unemployment and a dramatic increase among households receiving low income energy assistance, the National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association (NEADA) today called on the Administration to release $300 million in Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) emergency contingency funds.

Citing results of a NEADA study of state energy assistance programs released today, Executive Director Mark Wolfe also called upon the Congress to reject Administration’s proposal to reduce FY 2003 program funding by 18% from $1.7 billion in FY 2002 to $1.4 billion in FY 2003 (see Table 1).

Wolfe, who since 1995 has led the organization of directors of state programs helping families pay their heating bills, pointed out that despite lower energy prices, many households are still having difficulty paying their energy bills. “Cuts like this one give poor families the Hobson’s choice between paying for heat or paying for food. It can only lead to increases in utility arrearages and ultimately in higher rates of shut-offs.”

Pointing out that the new survey found the number of households receiving program assistance increased by 38% over the last two years, Wolfe added that four states are already out of funds – New Hampshire, Oregon, South Carolina and West Virginia. “Eight more expect to be out of funds by the end of February, he said. These include: District of Columbia, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, North Carolina, Virginia and Wyoming. Four additional states expect to be out of funds by the end of March: Idaho, Minnesota, New Mexico and Vermont.

The survey released today by NEADA, found that the number of households receiving program assistance is projected to increase by 38% from 3.8 million in FY 2000 to 5.3 million in FY 2002 (see Table 2). While the rate of growth has slowed during the last year, the cumulative impact is dramatic. Thirteen states and the District of Columbia reported increases in program recipients of more than 50% during the two year period: Colorado – 84%; District of Columbia – 62%; Georgia – 98%; Illinois – 63%; Kentucky – 123%; Louisiana – 92%; Mississippi – 51%; Nevada – 98%; New Mexico – 150%; Oklahoma – 50%; Oregon – 82%; Washington – 81%; West Virginia – 70%; and Wyoming – 57%. A copy of the survey can be found on the NEADA website: www.neada.org.

“Those numbers make it clear that the Administration proposal comes at precisely the wrong time,” Wolfe said. “We should help poor people keep the heat on – especially during periods of high unemployment.” According to Wolfe, NEADA supports enlarging the Administration budget to $3.4 billion plus $300 million in emergency funds in order to address the increased need for assistance as a result of the recent increase in low wage unemployment. “That additional $2 billion would allow states to provide services to those households where somebody’s lost a job,” Wolfe said. “It would also provide additional funding to cover households at risk of being shut off.”

The National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association represents the state LIHEAP directors.