Dallas Lawmakers Fight to Help Low-Income Texans Pay Energy Bills | Dallas Observer

Dallas Congress Members Want to Help Low-Income Texans Pay Power Bills

U.S. Reps. Colin Allred and Jasmine Crockett, both local Democrats, are urging Congress to act.
Some low-income Texans need help paying sky-high energy costs amid the brutal heat.
Some low-income Texans need help paying sky-high energy costs amid the brutal heat. Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
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It’s exceedingly toasty in Dallas this summer, in case you somehow haven’t noticed. Plenty of others are getting scorched, too: July was the planet’s hottest month on record, and climate scientists are warning that it’s only going to get worse.

As the heat intensifies, Texans are seeking relief by cranking up their ACs. Now, two Dallas Democrats — U.S. Reps. Colin Allred and Jasmine Crockett — are spearheading an effort aimed at helping low-income people pay their energy bills.

In a letter late last month, Allred and Crockett asked the House Appropriations Committee to pass emergency supplemental funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. The lawmakers are sounding the alarm that state programs in the South and Southwest may not be able to offer crucial aid to everyone who qualifies.

Twenty-nine other Congress members joined Allred and Crockett in sending a letter urging committee leadership to take action.

“As costs rise and the summer days get hotter, this puts even more pressure on working folks in Texas,” Allred told the Observer via email. “We have an obligation to help our most vulnerable, and that’s what this federal program does by helping low-income individuals and families with their electric bills.”

Programs across the U.S. that were created to help cover power costs are having difficulty meeting demand during the summer months, according to NBC News. Decades ago, these programs were launched to assist with heating in the winter.

During a time when climate change-induced heat is getting incrementally worse, some leaders in Congress are highlighting the need for updates to such programs.

“Since LIHEAP was originally created to address cold weather conditions, the allocation of funds leaves many warmer states and their most vulnerable communities well below the national average in funding,” the Congress members’ letter reads in part.

LIHEAP is administered by the state via the Comprehensive Energy Assistance Program, which helps low-income Texans pay for power, according to an Allred news release. People who make up to 150% of the federal poverty level are eligible for the program.

The Congress members’ letter points to the recent heat-related deaths of at least 14 people in Texas and Louisiana.

“The Texas heat is punishing and without proper air conditioning, it can be deadly.” – U.S. Rep. Colin Allred

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Meanwhile, the number of heat-related illnesses in Dallas County this year has increased significantly.

Lack of LIHEAP aid may cause some families to miss bill payments, which could potentially result in their electricity being disconnected. Citing the heat waves cropping up across the U.S., Allred said he’s “very concerned” there might not be enough help for all qualifying Texans if supplemental funding isn’t green-lit.

“The Texas heat is punishing and without proper air conditioning, it can be deadly,” said Allred, who is running to unseat U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in 2024. “No one’s health should be at risk because of the high cost of an electric bill.”

Cooling bills in the U.S. are expected to spike by 11.7% this summer, according to the National Energy Assistance Directors Association. In Texas, folks are likely to cough up an average of $706 — a $64 increase compared with last summer.

Energy use in Texas shattered another record on Tuesday, according to Reuters — for the seventh time this summer and for the second day running.

Certain Dallas residents can get help from the city when they need emergency assistance covering their utility costs. On top of that, Dallas County’s health department is giving air conditioning units to low-income people who qualify.

Congress doesn’t always work well together, but Allred is optimistic about LIHEAP getting a boost.

“This program has historically had strong bipartisan support,” he said, “and I am hopeful that if this program faces shortfalls, we can work together to pass supplemental funding and ensure Texans can get the help they need.”
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