11/10/2011 — 

WASHINGTON, DC - In an effort to prevent millions of Americans from being left out in the cold this winter, U.S. Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Olympia J. Snowe (R-ME) are seeking to restore funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).  LIHEAP is the main federal program that helps low-income families and seniors on fixed-incomes with their energy bills, providing vital assistance during the cold winter months. 

As part of its efforts to control federal spending, the President’s budget proposed reducing LIHEAP funds from last year’s level of $4.7 billion down to $2.57 billion in 2012.  If Congress doesn’t act, the reduced funding -- coupled with increased costs of heating oil -- will force a drastic reduction in heating assistance to families across the country.

Today, Senators Reed, Snowe, and 32 of their colleagues sent a bipartisan letter urging the Senate leadership and the Appropriations Committee to provide certainty to the program as we enter the winter months and extend last year’s level of funding of $4.7 billion for LIHEAP through September 30, 2012 in any appropriations bills moving forward. 

LIHEAP is a unique program where if funding is not finalized before winter, millions of low income households run the risk of not receiving assistance during the coldest months.  Given the uncertainty in the full year appropriations for LIHEAP, which resulted in the release of only $1.7 billion in LIHEAP funding to states last month, the senators wrote: “we request that under any appropriations bill that Congress considers prior to the expiration of the [continuing resolution] CR that you provide funding for LIHEAP, including emergency funds, at no less than the Fiscal Year 2011 level through September 30, 2012, and that you work with us to avoid these catastrophic cuts during the winter season.”

So far, Rhode Island has received just $12.7 million this year to apply toward LIHEAP obligations, down from a total of $31.1 million last year, while Maine received $23 million, down from $55.6 million in 2011.

“We need to do everything we can to ensure that families, especially those with children and elderly residents, can stay safe and warm during the winter. Congress needs to act now to restore this funding and help our states and community partners provide families with the assistance they need during the cold weather months,” said Senator Reed, noting that Rhode Island’s $31.1 million in LIHEAP funding last year helped more than 36,000 families throughout the state.

“Heating is not a luxury, and the Administration’s failure to recognize the hardship of home heating oil prices on low income families in the President’s budget was a mistake,” said Senator Snowe. “Mainers are now receiving assistance that is more than a 50 percent cut, and this coupled with the increased cost of home heating oil is having a devastating effect on Maine’s least fortunate.  This is precisely why I am calling on Congress and the Administration to restore this vital funding immediately. During these troubling and challenging economic times, Mainers and Americans have enough to worry about. Simply heating their homes this winter should not be one of those worries.” 

The Energy Information Administration recently noted that “average expenditures for households that heat with oil are forecast to be higher than in any previous winter.”

Please see related files for the full text of the letter.