LIHEAPpalooza 2024: Shattering Participation Records! 

AGA recently coordinated with the National Energy & Utility Affordability Coalition to host LIHEAP Action Day on Capitol Hill. This event sees hundreds of people from across the United States travel to Washington, D.C. to advocate on behalf of low-income and at-risk energy customers to maintain and expand funding to ensure affordable energy access for all Americans.  

The Low Income Household Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) provides critical financial assistance to households up to 150 percent of the federal poverty line to help pay for home heating and cooling. LIHEAP Action Day 2024 saw record-setting participation, with 275 participants holding 314 congressional meetings to advocate for this critical program.  

AGA’s Adam Kay had the chance to conduct an interview with Katrina Metzler, Executive Director for the National Energy & Utility Affordability Coalition, about LIHEAP and LIHEAP Action Day. The interview is reproduced below. 

AK: “Could you tell me a little about how you got started with LIHEAP Action Day and what it means to you?” 

KM: “I’ve been with the coalition for about eight years now, so this is my eighth LIHEAP Action Day. During my time at NEAUC I’ve seen the program grow, but folks who have been here longer than I have will tell you that since we initiated the day back in the 1980’s it’s grown exponentially, which is a wonderful thing to see. A program like LIHEAP really deserves that kind of support. It’s easy to make the case for this important program.  It is critical that the people who administer the program locally, and who are helped by the program, connect in some way with legislators and thought leaders who are making key decisions that impact the program.  

That’s what LIHEAP Action day is about: making that connection between those who uses the program and the people who are in power, so that they have good information and can do their jobs well. Policy makers do a better job of making decisions and determining how much to allocate to a program like LIHEAP when they have all the information about how this is impacting local constituents.

This year we had 300 appointments with legislators to talk about LIHEAP—a tremendous accomplishment! We hope that we see the day continue to grow and that we keep getting the right people in the room to deliver our important message.” 

AK: “What do members of Congress that aren’t very familiar with LIHEAP need to know about the program?” 

KM: “We start with the basics.  We might have a meeting with a new staffer who hasn’t been on the job for very long and we need to detail what this program is and how it works.  There isn’t anything like this anywhere else—a program that is available in every district, state, tribe and territory across the country. It’s that pervasive and helps millions of people – 7.1 million households in 2023 – a which is a record-breaking number for LIHEAP. In the 40 plus years of the program we’ve never seen so many households in need be served by the program.” 

AK: “Can you tell me anything about the families that would typically be prioritized for LIHEAP funding?” 

“We’re tasked by statute with serving those who are most vulnerable to temperature extremes. That includes people who are older than 60, children who are younger than five, and anyone with a disability, including some chronic conditions. During COVID what we saw was a real need for things like respiratory equipment and making sure people were healthy in their homes. Frequently that requires access to electricity, so that medically necessary equipment can function. Making sure those folks are taken care of and remain connected is part of how we serve.  

In about 70 percent of our households across the country, at least one person falls into one of the categories we prioritize. We’re doing a really good job of targeting exactly the right people.  The funding for LIHEAP goes directly to the utility to help support the customers who need it, which prevents fraud, abuse and waste.  When Congress appropriates funding for LIHEAP, they can rest assured that taxpayer dollars are being spent on exactly what we told them it would be: to help those most vulnerable to pay bills, and to offer energy assistance and to make energy more affordable in America. That’s what we’re supposed to be doing, and we’re doing a really good job with it.” 

AK: “What can Congress do to make sure this program helps more people – ideally as many as are eligible?” 

“Even with the bipartisan support we have, we are still only able to serve about one in every six eligible families in America . LIHEAP is different from other programs that people might be familiar with that are part of the social safety net, like TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) or SNAP, which is food assistance. Those are entitlement programs, which means the funding automatically grows as people apply and there is a need for it. LIHEAP is not an entitlement program. You’re not entitled to these funds, rather, they’re appropriated annually. Even if we have a line of people waiting around the block for energy assistance, when the funding is gone, it’s gone. Because of that, Congressional appropriations are incredibly important to us, and it’s a big part of why LIHEAP Action Day is so important. Maximizing the appropriation for LIHEAP means that we can maximize the number of families who are served. 

LIHEAP is the bedrock of energy assistance in America.  It saves lives, in the winter and the summer, by protecting people in their own homes. While Congress has a lot of really tough funding decisions to make, I think LIHEAP is one place they can rest assured that the funding is being spent well, and that it’s money well spent in their districts to directly help their constituents.”