WASHINGTON, DC - In an effort to help millions of Americans who are struggling with their energy bills as winter approaches, a bipartisan group of 40 U.S. Senators, led by Jack Reed (D-RI) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME), are calling on the Obama Administration to release federal heating aid funds.
Today, the Senators sent a bipartisan letter to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius urging her to release Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) funds as quickly and at as high a level as possible. Earlier this year, Reed and Snowe secured language in the continuing resolution to fund LIHEAP at the Fiscal Year 2012 level of $3.47 billion nationally through March 27, 2013. Without the language, the program could have been reduced to as little as $2.82 billion during the winter months.
“LIHEAP helps families in need keep the heat on during the cold winter months. With winter approaching it is critical to quickly get this assistance out to ensure seniors and low-income families do not get left out in the cold,” said Reed, noting that last year, Rhode Island received over $23 million in LIHEAP funding, assisting nearly 32,000 households. This year Rhode Island is expected to receive approximately the same level of LIHEAP funding across the state.
“It is absolutely vital federal funding for the LIHEAP program is released well in advance of winter so Maine’s agencies have the time necessary to make allotments to our Mainers most in need. I strongly urge Secretary Sebelius to release these funds as quickly as possible to ensure Maine families can heat their homes during the approaching cold months,” said Senator Snowe. “In Congress, we must also move heaven and earth to prioritize funding for the program. With heating oil prices as high as $3.93 per gallon in Maine, the LIHEAP remains below the level it should be to ensure the most vulnerable Mainers can stay warm.”
Yesterday, the U.S. Energy Information Administration released their Winter Fuels Outlook report which stated that the average expenditures for households that heat with heating oil are forecast to be higher than any previous winter on record.
Eligibility for LIHEAP is based on income, family size, and the availability of resources.
Text of the letter follows (PDF attached):
October 11, 2012
The Honorable Kathleen Sebelius
United States Department of Health and Human Services
200 Independence Avenue, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20201
Dear Secretary Sebelius:
The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) is an indispensable lifeline for low-income households. As state agencies prepare their LIHEAP programs for the winter, we respectfully request that the Department of Health and Human Services release LIHEAP funds as quickly and at as high of a level as possible under the current continuing resolution.
LIHEAP is the main federal program that helps low-income households and seniors with their energy bills, providing vital assistance during both the cold winter and hot summer months. This funding has been a lifeline during the economic downturn, helping to ensure that recipients do not have to choose between paying their energy bills and paying for food or medicine. In addition, on average low-income families spend a higher proportion of their income on energy, and for many states, October marks the start of the heating season, creating an additional constraint on these household budgets.
The ongoing difficult economic climate and elevated levels of unemployment across our states continue to add to the challenges facing our least fortunate this heating season. As the relevant state agencies begin to provide assistance for this winter, it is critical that they have the resources to assist low-income households as soon as possible. Therefore, we request that you quickly release these funds and at as high of a level as possible in order to allow states and low-income households to prepare for the upcoming season.
We look forward to continuing to work with you on this critical program, and thank you for your attention to our concerns and those of our constituents.