The Biden administration announced on Wednesday, six days before the upcoming midterm elections, that the federal government would help pay power bills for qualifying low- and moderate-income households.
The administration will provide $4.5 billion through the Department of Health and Human Services to “help lower heating costs for American families this winter,” according to a press release from the White House. The funds will cover unpaid utility payments and “help families make cost-effective home energy repairs to lower their heating and cooling bills.”
Meanwhile, the administration emphasized $9 billion in funding from the Inflation Reduction Act that state and local governments can utilize to fund energy upgrades for 1.6 million homes, as well as various efforts from the Department of Energy to reduce power expenses.
According to the most recent winter fuels outlook from the Energy Information Administration, the average household primarily using natural gas for space heating will spend $931 on power from October to March, marking a $206 increase since last year. Energy expenses have been a primary factor behind inflation reaching four-decade highs.
Vice President Kamala Harris is slated to visit a union hall in Boston, Massachusetts, on Wednesday to discuss the new initiatives. “President Biden’s economic plan focuses on lowering energy costs for American families so they can keep their homes warm in the winter and cool in the summer, especially as communities across the country cope with extreme temperatures and volatile weather fueled by climate change,” the White House remarked.
The Biden administration has also announced the release of large portions of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve over the past several months, leading critics to argue that officials are merely attempting to reduce energy prices ahead of the midterm elections to improve the odds for their legislative allies. The national average price for gasoline surpassed $5.00 per gallon this summer, even though prices at the pump are currently $3.77 per gallon, according to data from AAA, marking a 58% increase since the commander-in-chief assumed office at the beginning of last year.
Midterm polling consistently shows voters have their eyes on the economy and cost of living more than any other issue. One survey from ABC News and The Washington Post found that 84% of voters identify the economy as their top concern, while the Republicans lead the Democrats by a 16-point margin concerning trust in handling the economy.
Another survey from Bankrate shows that 43% of respondents believe their finances are worse than two years ago, while only 18% say they are better and most of the individuals in the former category say Democrats are responsible. Among those who reported worse finances, 69% placed “at least a moderate amount of blame” on Biden, while 71% placed blame on Democrats in Congress. A smaller but still salient 54% blamed Republicans in Congress. Although 93% of Republicans with lower financial prospects said Biden is to blame, 30% of Democrats agreed.
Beyond moves to place downward pressure on energy prices, critics also assert that Biden’s move to cancel up to $10,000 in student loans per borrower comes amid worries that Republicans will take one or both chambers of Congress. In a lawsuit, the Pacific Legal Foundation contended that the debt cancellation is an “election year ploy.”