40 U.S. Senators Led by Reed & Collins Urge HHS to Release Winter Heat Aid
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 Susan Collins (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. Recently, Reed and Collins worked to include language in the continuing resolution to fund LIHEAP at the higher Fiscal Year 2012 enacted level of $3.47 billion. Unfortunately, this funding remains subject to automatic, across the board sequestration cuts, which both Senators oppose and support addressing. Without the Reed-Collins language, LIHEAP would have been subject to even deeper cuts during the cold winter months ahead.
“The government shutdown hurt the economy and threatened to delay the release of LIHEAP assistance. Now that it’s behind us, it is critical to quickly get these funds out to ensure Rhode Islanders in need do not get left out in the cold this winter,” said Senator Reed, noting that about 34,000 Rhode Islanders depend on LIHEAP to help with their energy bills.
“The LIHEAP programs assists some 8 million households nationwide; nearly 50,000 in Maine,” said Senator Collins. “As energy costs have increased, LIHEAP remains an important lifeline that helps prevent people from having to choose between heating their home, paying their bills, or going without food or medicine. I urge DHHS to release this critical funding quickly.”
Recently, the U.S. Energy Information Administration released their Winter Fuels Outlook report, which projects that household expenditures for natural gas, propane, and electric heating will be higher this winter. Home heating oil prices are expected to be modestly lower. The report also noted that the Northeast is expected to be 3% colder than the previous winter.
Eligibility for LIHEAP is based on income, family size, and the availability of resources.
Text of the letter follows (PDF attached):
Dear Secretary Sebelius:
As state agencies prepare their Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (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 critical assistance during the cold winter and hot summer months. This funding has been an indispensable lifeline during challenging economic times, helping to ensure that recipients do not have to choose between paying their energy bills and paying for other necessities like food or medicine. On average low-income families and seniors 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.
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 and seniors as soon as possible. Therefore, we request that you quickly release LIHEAP 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.