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Energy Assistance/LIHEAP

Energy Crisis Looming for the Poor?

With an energy shortage in California now grabbing the national headlines, advocates for the poor seem more worried about a potential energy crisis for the poor in the nation's colder eastern and mid-western states.

After a protracted last-minute budget fight with Congress in December, President Clinton signed legislation containing $1.7 billion in funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), the federal government's primary source of energy assistance for the poor. The amount represents a cut of $300 million from the $2 billion appropriated for FY 2000, the previous fiscal year.

Energy advocates are worried that in the face of sharply escalating energy prices, the current level of funding will result in a significant reduction in assistance at a time of heightened need. In recent weeks the price of crude oil has reached $34.90 per barrel, the highest since the build up to the Persian Gulf War in November, 1990. The Department of Energy estimates that home heating oil prices could be 30 percent higher this winter than last, and that natural gas prices could be 40 percent higher.

The LIHEAP Coalition, an alliance of organizations that support LIHEAP funding, estimates that only about 13 percent of eligible families actually receive LIHEAP assistance now, and that this number would be expected to drop further under the amount Congress appropriated. Recent surveys indicate that in 1999, when heating bills were unaffordable, roughly 21-25 percent of LIHEAP recipients went without medical care and 12-13 percent went without food so they could cover their energy costs.

- Updated 12/15/00

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