A survey of state LIHEAP directors released this week shows that LIHEAP applications will likely reach record levels for FY 2009. Application totals are projected to increase by at least 1.2 million, or 21 percent over last year’s levels. The number of low-income households receiving LIHEAP benefits this year is expected to reach about 7.1 million households, 600,000 more than the record set in 1985.
Fifteen states had increases in applicant levels of at least 21percent, including two that are projected to increase by at least 200 percent — Texas 201 percent and Florida 200 percent. Other dramatic increases projected were: Tennessee 60 percent, Arkansas 50 percent, Arizona 35 percent, Alaska 34 percent, New Mexico and Oregon 26 percent.
According to Mark Wolfe, Executive Director of the National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association (NEADA), the record increase in the number of applicants reflects the continuing deterioration in the nation’s economy resulting in higher unemployment or reduced hours of work for many people. Furthermore, the amount of LIHEAP funding has increased this year and currently totals $5.1 billion, compared to $2.59 billion last year.
Wolfe also said home energy costs continue to remain at unaffordable levels for many households. Average home energy bills are expected to show a decrease of only two percent, from $990 last year to $971 this year, based on the Energy Information Administration’s December Short-Term Energy Outlook. Only families using home heating oil (about eight percent of the population) are expected to show a significant drop in energy costs, from $1,953 last year to $1,570 this year. Average home heating costs are still high, Wolfe said — the average home energy bill for 2002 through 2007 was $807, compared to $971 for the current winter heating season.