Generating Heat Around the Goal of Making Home Energy Affordable to Low Income Americans
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This summer, people from across the country felt the sticker shock of drastically increased gasoline prices. Concerns about energy costs affected a broad range of Americans who suddenly wondered how they were going to balance their other expenses with the energy-related necessities of driving to work, air conditioning their homes, and preparing for winter heating bills. All at once, energy costs were at the forefront of conversations occurring among legislators, within the media, and at the dinner table.
As fall approached, oil and gas prices decreased, and new crises grabbed our national attention. Lost in the conversation shift is the fact that energy costs are still a dire problem for many low-income households due to the following:
- These families and individuals experienced energy-related financial strains well before this year’s price spikes and will continue to do so even as prices rebound.
- As recent circumstances illustrated, low-income households are the least prepared to manage unusually high price surges and as a nation, we are unprepared to fully assist them. Absent appropriate policy shifts, the country will be equally unprepared for any future price surges.
- The current worldwide economic crisis is accompanied by high rates of unemployment and job losses to the national economy here in the United States. As a result, a growing number of people are living with reduced resources and may find it newly difficult to pay for necessities such as home energy.
This year, more middle-class Americans experienced the reality of a world with energy prices that they considered unaffordable. Thus, they potentially have a better understanding of the consistent reality of low-income families that have a history of difficulty with paying their energy bills.
It is imperative that Americans prioritize a policy agenda that solves the problem of unaffordable home energy for low-income households—health, safety, and other relevant concerns dictate this course of action. Recommendations to help low-income households with their continuing energy burdens include:
- The United States should set a national goal of making home energy affordable to all low-income households.
- In order to reach this goal we must move forward with retooling currently existing programs that help vulnerable families and individuals manage their energy costs—such as the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program and the Weatherization Assistance Program—in order to better prepare them to address current and future price pressures. In addition, retooling would help the programs take advantage of emerging technologies, while also allowing the nation to address other significant concerns related to the environment and the creation of new employment opportunities.
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Senior Policy Analyst