Low-Income Home Energy Assistance:

Legislative Changes Could Result in Better Program Management

HRD-90-165: Published: Sep 7, 1990. Publicly Released: Oct 9, 1990.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed block grant funding for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), focusing on possible congressional action to help the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the states better manage LIHEAP.

GAO found that: (1) states could not efficiently plan their heating programs, since they did not know how much HHS planned to allocate in LIHEAP funding before the heating season began; (2) federal delays in providing allocation information resulted in fewer households being served and program funds being carried over to the following year; (3) states' needs for LIHEAP assistance varied, according to weather conditions and regional fuel prices; and (4) HHS could better respond to unanticipated heating cost increases if it had more discretion on how to use available funds or authority to borrow or reprogram other funds on an emergency basis.

Matters for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In November 1990, Congress passed P.L. 101-501 reauthorizing LIHEAP, which contained a provision adopting the suggestion for forward funding.

    Matter: To help HHS and the states better manage LIHEAP, Congress should consider forward funding the program, making funding available early enough in each year so HHS can notify states of the exact amount they will receive before they open their heating programs.

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The 1991 and 1992 HHS appropriations laws contained provisions that set aside funds for emergency circumstances and established conditions to release these funds. The House version of the 1993 HHS appropriations law provides for continuation of the set-aside.

    Matter: To help HHS and the states better manage LIHEAP, Congress should consider giving HHS some discretionary funding flexibility to enable it to quickly respond to unanticipated circumstances.


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