Today, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) celebrates 40 years of helping families and individuals restore home energy services, afford home heating and cooling costs and avoid shutoffs due to unpaid energy bills.
Created in August 1981, LIHEAP was a groundbreaking program to provide energy assistance to low-income households, amid steeply rising energy prices. 40 years later, LIHEAP is still the largest source of federal funding dedicated to helping people with low income lower their home energy burden—the amount of their household income that goes towards home heating and cooling expenses. LIHEAP serves millions of households each year, but LIHEAP assistance is particularly important for people who are most negatively impacted by unhealthy indoor air and temperatures such as seniors, young children, and the disabled.
LIHEAP funding is available in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and approximately 150 tribes and tribal organizations. As a block grant, LIHEAP gives grantees expansive flexibility to address their community’s needs, based on specific climate factors and home energy costs.
Over the last 40 years, LIHEAP has grown tremendously. The number of tribes operating LIHEAP has grown from 55 tribes in 1981 to 150 tribes in 2021. Nationwide, funding has risen from $1.85 billion in 1981 to $8.2 billion in 2021 (more than half of which came from LIHEAP supplemental funds in the American Rescue Plan). There have also been shifts in the amount of cooling assistance available to households. In 1984, Congress changed the LIHEAP formula from being limited to households with “medically necessary” cooling needs in 1981 to households with any cooling needs. With unprecedented extreme heat waves across the United States over the last few years—particularly in communities that traditionally do not have the need for or access to air conditioning—LIHEAP’s cooling assistance is a lifeline for millions of people and plays a key role in preventing heat-related deaths and illnesses. In 2019, more than 724,000 households received an average household cooling benefit of $450.
The need for cooling assistance is also reflected in how Congress adjusted the funding formula that HHS uses to distribute the LIHEAP money across the nation.
Heating assistance has also evolved over the years. Today, more than 5.3 million households receive an average heating benefit of $439. The chart below shows that most of the households that received heating assistance had at least one member who is vulnerable because he or she is elderly, disabled, or a young child. The chart shows the total number of households with a vulnerable member, but also displays how many households had different types of vulnerable members, given that a single household may include a mix of different vulnerable members. For more data about the impact of the program, see the LIHEAP Performance Management web site. Visit disclaimer page
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As we celebrate the importance of LIHEAP over the last 40 years, it is vital to acknowledge the importance of LIHEAP today. Families and individuals across America are still trying to overcome the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and remain front and center in our minds. Due to the supplemental funding made available in the CARES Act and the American Rescue Plan Act for heating and cooling costs, we have the opportunity to reach millions of additional households who are in need of energy assistance, including newly eligible families that are experiencing a financial hardship such as a large drop in income following unemployment due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We are asking for your helping in reaching these families and others who would benefit from LIHEAP assistance.
Families and individuals in need of energy assistance can contact their state or tribe, a local application intake team, or call the National Energy Assistance Referral (NEAR) hotline at 1-866-674-6327 for support with home heating and cooling bills.
Congratulations, LIHEAP, on 40 years of helping families stay healthy and safe in their home!