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White House Pushing Utility and Energy Providers to Prevent Shut-Offs This Winter

November 18, 2021 by Reece Nations
Frozen branches (M. Zane McClellan/Pixabay)

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is calling on energy providers to proactively coordinate American Rescue Plan Act funds to prevent utility shut-offs this winter.

In a press briefing issued on Thursday, the Biden-Harris White House urged states, localities and tribes to utilize resources earmarked under the American Rescue Plan to effectively counter rising home energy costs during the winter months. In addition, White House officials are also pressing utility companies that receive public dollars to expedite federal aid delivery in order to prevent federal emergency declarations like the one caused by Winter Storm Uri in Texas this past February.

Although the primary focus of the support programs will continue to be low-income individuals and households, the provisions of the American Rescue Plan include robust assistance for the middle class as well. Some provisions of the bill, signed into law by President Joe Biden in March, account for emergency rental assistance to help cover utility bills.

The provisions also more than double Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program funding, and provide additional flexibility to use fiscal recovery funds to help deliver energy relief for middle-class households that are ineligible for programs typically reserved for low-income consumers.

Seven major utility companies, including the fuel trade association New England Fuel Institute, have agreed at the programs’ onset to identify recipients eligible for public benefits like the Emergency Rental Assistance program. Companies will screen and notify recipients, speed up assistance to vulnerable households, delay or restore shut-offs for customers applying for financial hardship assistance and expedite benefits for customers.

The White House is also calling for states, localities and tribes to stay ahead of the curve in distributing expanded LIHEAP funding to accelerate the program’s implementation in advance of winter. The Department of Health and Human Services is compelling grantees to consider additional outreach to families in need of energy assistance, as some households may be unfamiliar with how to access the benefits.

HHS and the Department of the Treasury will issue guidance clarifying how LIHEAP and ERA grantees can swiftly coordinate benefits to eligible households. Households will be eligible for benefits based on income, and proactive coordination between the departments will ensure the support reaches the greatest number of households possible.

The Treasury Department also encourages grantees to take advantage of the programs’ flexibility to supply utility assistance payments over the next several months to low-income families who will face soaring heating costs throughout the winter. This flexibility also applies to renters who rely on fuel delivery to heat their houses.

Further, the Treasury Department will provide grantees greater flexibility to partner with nonprofit organizations when rapid payments are required to prevent loss of utility services. Increased home heating costs can qualify some income-dependent households for additional assistance in situations of hardship.

Around one-third of families receiving expanded monthly Child Tax Credit payments of up to $300 per child used the funds to cover home energy costs between July and October of this year. This is supplemented by the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act’s $3.5 billion investment in the Department of Energy’s Weatherization Assistance Program to reduce energy costs for more than 700,000 low-income households by increasing the energy efficiency of their residences.

The American Rescue Plan will also provide $100 million in financial support from the Department of Agriculture to more than 26,000 rural households in multi-family housing through September 2022. To combat dire situations in which low-income families grapple with hunger as energy prices rise, the Biden administration increased Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits on Oct. 1 by $36.24 per month on average. 

Reece can be reached at reece@thewellnews.com

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