HHS has dedicated $3.7 billion to help low-income families with utility bills, recognizing the impact of energy costs on health. This assistance comes through LIHEAP, supporting households to afford heating and cooling. Additionally, HHS unveiled a LIHEAP eligibility tool to simplify access to aid. The effort aligns with the broader strategy to address social determinants of health and is complemented by initiatives like Boston Medical Center’s Clean Power Prescription, aimed at reducing energy expenses through solar power.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is committing $3.7 billion to assist with utility expenses, underscoring energy bills as key influencers on health. The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) will administer these funds to facilitate the management of home energy costs for vulnerable families, especially in preparing for colder months.
HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra noted that managing these expenses is vital for maintaining the well-being and safety of low-income households. This injection of funds is a component of President Biden’s Investing in America plan, which aims to ensure that families can afford necessities such as food and healthcare without compromising on their indoor environmental safety.
The Administration for Children and Families (ACF) within HHS, which includes the Office of Community Services (OCS), will distribute the funds. These efforts extend the OCS’s ongoing initiatives to support individuals with their home energy requirements.
ACF’s Acting Assistant Secretary, Jeff Hild, highlighted LIHEAP’s crucial role, having assisted over six million households last year. The program not only helps with energy bills but also furthers ACF’s goal to enhance the economic and social welfare of communities.
To streamline the process, HHS, ACF, and OCS have launched a LIHEAP eligibility tool, available in multiple languages, to simplify qualification checks for assistance.
OCS Director Dr. Lanikque Howard emphasized that this tool reduces the strain of determining program eligibility, particularly for those juggling multiple jobs or extended hours.
While often overlooked, the capability to pay for utilities is an important social determinant of health (SDOH), influencing the safety and health outcomes associated with seasonal temperature extremes and necessary medical equipment operation, which often depends on electricity.
HHS’s initiative signals a growing acknowledgment of energy affordability as an SDOH. In parallel, Boston Medical Center (BMC) introduced the Clean Power Prescription program, allowing doctors to prescribe cost-effective energy bills, subsidized through BMC’s solar power generation, supporting patient health and reducing financial burdens related to energy costs. Starting with 80 families from the BMC’s Complex Care Management program, each will receive an average annual saving of $600 on their energy bills, lightening the load of energy expenses on overall well-being.