The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that extreme cold weather caused more than 13,400 hypothermia deaths between 2003 and 2013. The people most at risk for weather related deaths include populations identified as vulnerable populations by LIHEAP – the elderly, disabled, and young children. The flexibility provided by LIHEAP’s block-grant structure can be used to try and assist low-income households during extreme weather situations.
When it comes to extremely cold temperatures, households lacking utility service will sometimes resort to risky measures to stay warm. In 2015, a Maryland family of eight died in their sleep following a utility shutoff when the exhaust from a gas-fueled generator that they had been using to keep warm filled the room with carbon monoxide. More recently, in 2016, a Tennessee man perished in a house fire after using a portable electric heater to stay warm. Other risky heating behaviors include using ovens to heat the home, especially if they are gas ovens, and using portable heaters that burn fuel without proper ventilation.
LIHEAP grantees have many tools to help low-income households try to avoid these cold-weather situations. During FY 2017, all state LI-HEAP grantees indicated in their plans they would offer a heating program to provide assistance. All state grantees offer crisis assistance, and more than half of state grantees use possession of a shutoff notice as criteria for receiving crisis benefits. Along with providing bill assistance, over 30 state grantees will repair or replace furnaces as part of either their crisis or weatherization components.