Worker and Family Assistance:

Home Energy Assistance for Low-Income Occupants of Manufactured Homes

GAO-12-848R: Published: Aug 24, 2012. Publicly Released: Aug 24, 2012.

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Franklin W. Rusco
(202) 512-4597
ruscof@gao.gov

 

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What GAO Found

In 2005, the most recent year for which complete data were available, occupants of older manufactured homes paid over twice as much on average per square foot for energy---$1.75 per square foot as compared with $0.87---as was paid by occupants of detached homes. Annual energy expenditures for older manufactured homes--about 906 square feet on average--were about $1,369, compared with detached homes--about 2,919 square feet on average--were about $2,060. Energy expenditures--both per square foot and annually--varied significantly by region reflecting regional differences in the types and costs of fuels commonly used to heat and cool homes, income levels, and climate, among other things. In 2005, LIHEAP provided more assistance on a per square foot basis--about $0.33 per square foot--to occupants of older manufactured homes than to those of detached homes--about $0.20 per square foot. However, this assistance covers slightly less of the annual energy expenditures of occupants of older manufactured homes than occupants of detached homes--15 and 17 percent, respectively. Based on our analysis of EIA's RECS data, we estimate that about 3 percent of LIHEAP funds--about $57 million--spent in 2005 were used to assist occupants of older manufactured homes.

Why GAO Did This Study

According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), the nation's approximately 130 million housing units account for about 23 percent of total energy consumption in the United States. Approximately 2 million of these housing units are manufactured homes (i.e., mobile homes) that were built prior to 1976, when new standards for energy efficient construction became effective. These older manufactured homes are generally considered to have some of the poorest energy efficiency of all housing units. Many of the occupants of these homes qualify for federal assistance to help pay their energy bills through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). LIHEAP helps cover home energy expenditures-- key components of which are home heating and, in some cases, cooling expenditures. In 2009, LIHEAP covered about 8.3 million low-income households through payments to homeowners, occupants, landlords, or others. LIHEAP is a federally funded block grant program in which funds are provided to grantees, including states, territories, and tribes and tribal organizations, based on a number of factors, such as climate and income. Grantees then provide LIHEAP funds to eligible beneficiaries. To be eligible, household income must be below varying thresholds set by the federal government. In fiscal year 2012, Congress appropriated about $3.5 billion for LIHEAP nationwide.

Questions have been raised about whether improving the energy efficiency of older manufactured homes or replacing them with newer, more energy-efficient models would save the federal government money by reducing LIHEAP costs. A portion of LIHEAP funds can be used to improve the energy efficiency of these homes but, in many cases, because of the ways these homes were built and their sometimes poor condition, improving their energy efficiency cannot be accomplished cost effectively. LIHEAP funds are statutorily prohibited from being used for new construction, which includes replacing existing homes.

Congress asked us to review available data on energy use by and LIHEAP assistance for occupants of manufactured homes--particularly those built before 1976. Our objectives for this report were to determine (1) the amount occupants of older manufactured homes paid for energy and how it compared with the amount paid by occupants of detached homes, (2) how the amount of LIHEAP assistance occupants of older manufactured homes received and the amount of their energy expenditures this assistance covered compared with such assistance received and expenditures covered for occupants of detached homes, and (3) the proportion of total LIHEAP funding used to assist occupants of older manufactured homes.

For more information, contact Frank Rusco at (202) 512-3841 or ruscof@gao.gov.

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