In six weeks, the United States will have a new president. Joined by a Republican-led 115th Congress, Donald Trump’s motto of making America great again will be put to the test. In terms of energy policy, Mr Trump’s definition of American greatness is the continued extraction and use of fossil fuels for energy generation, increased export of American oil, and reversing the trend of taking coal plants off line. But while Mr Trump has the production side of the equation spelled out, it is the consumer side that concerns me, specifically policy toward low income consumers having difficulty paying their heating bills. America’s greatness lays in part in how it treats its less fortunate citizens, and given the increased demand by low income consumers for assistance with energy bills, Mr Trump and the 115th Congress have an opportunity to put their rhetoric into action.
I recently witnessed first-hand the demand on the part of Georgia’s low income consumers for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). Georgia opened up its open enrollment for the program on December 1 and my mother asked if I could take her to a Fulton County office so that she could renew her benefits. I observed a wide age range of individuals, mostly black American or female, waiting patiently to see an intake counselor. As my mother completed a few forms, I asked the intake counselor if the demand for the program was increasing. She politely said yes as she gave my mother a few forms to sign. I then asked the big question: “Is funding increasing or decreasing?” She quietly with a faint amount of resignation said decreasing, explaining briefly that budgets have been continuously cut for the program.
The numbers bear her out. Data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services shows that funding for LIHEAP in Georgia fell from $61.7 million in fiscal year 2012 to $54.2 million in fiscal year 2016.
On a national level, funding for LIHEAP has remained relatively flat. Again, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, fiscal year 2012 funding was approximately $3.5 billion. By fiscal year 2016, funding fell to approximately $3.4 billion.
So, what should be Mr Trump’s the next steps in reversing the trend in LIHEAP financing? First, he should prioritize the nation’s poor by asking for increased funding in the fiscal year 2018 budget. He should also modify the remaining fiscal year 2017 budget to reflect increased LIHEAP funding.
Second, he should issue a bi-partisan call to action directly to U.S. citizens, asking them to call their Congressmen and support the President’s call for additional funding.
It is time for the United States to embark on a balanced energy policy, one that brings fairness and affordable energy rates to low income families.