The Biden administration is taking steps to help distribute several billion dollars in winter heating and utility bill assistance, an unprecedented amount partly funded by its $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package.
The bill included an additional $4.5 billion for the government’s Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which generally receives $3 billion to $4 billion in funding each year. Renter aid can also cover utility expenses, while funds provided to state, local, and tribal governments can assist families with high heating bills who are not eligible for other programs.
“It’s another example of where the American Rescue Plan included extra precautions to ensure we would be prepared,” said Gene Sperling, who is overseeing coronavirus relief for the White House. “These new programs and funding were designed to ensure that if the weather was colder or the prices were higher, we would have the highest resources ever to help as many hard-pressed families as possible.”
The White House issued invitations to a conference call with representatives from governors’ offices on Thursday afternoon to discuss how to distribute the funds and coordinate across programs.
Sperling, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, and the governors of Connecticut, Maine, and Michigan will take part in the call.
The aid helps in the formation of a cushion that reduces the impact of rising energy costs ahead of winter. Republican Lawmakers have claimed that the relief package, which was passed into law in March, has resulted in higher levels of inflation, with prices in October at 6.2% higher than a year ago.
“The Democrats’ inflation is functioning like an ultra-punitive tax on the American families who can least afford it, exactly the opposite of a ‘high-class problem,’” Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said in a Wednesday floor speech.
However, in this situation, the aid package is already helping to protect millions of homes from rising utility bills.
According to Urban Institute estimates based on a Census Bureau survey, one-third of families used monthly payments from the increased child tax credit to pay their utility bills between July and October 2021.
According to the Labor Department’s consumer price index, electricity and natural gas costs are nearly 11% higher than a year ago. According to the Energy Information Administration, heating oil prices have more than doubled in the last year.
The administration is also urging utilities and energy companies to use the government resources at their disposal to protect their most vulnerable customers. DTE Energy, Eversource, National Grid, and NorthWestern Energy have already promised to locate and notify eligible customers, as well as to ensure no outages for customers who seek assistance.
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