WASHINGTON, DC - During a hearing today before the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor-HHS-Education, U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) took on the Obama Administration's proposed cuts to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) in the fiscal year 2012 budget.
Reed, a member of the subcommittee, voiced concern directly to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that the Obama Administration's proposed cut to LIHEAP - from $5.1 billion down to $2.57 billion - would have a negative impact on Rhode Island and other cold weather states, denying aid to millions of Americans in need of home heating assistance.
Reed stated that the Administration's budget justification does not accurately weigh the combination of high fuel prices and economic conditions that Rhode Islanders are facing, where unemployment remains at 11.2% and heating oil already costs 31% more this winter than last, directly affecting the 32% of LIHEAP recipients in RI that use heating oil to heat their home.
During questioning, Reed asked the Secretary to justify the cuts to LIHEAP when many of the other factors that contributed to the need to increase LIHEAP funds remain-the record high poverty rate; record high participation in SNAP benefits, topping 44 million people for the first time; continued high unemployment; and rising energy costs, particularly heating oil. He also questioned how the Secretary could address the increased energy costs in a timely manner to keep seniors and low income families warm in the upcoming winter given the proposed 50% cut in funding for LIHEAP.
Last year, Reed helped secure over $30.75 million in LIHEAP funding to help more than 40,000 families throughout Rhode Island, especially elderly residents and those with young children.
Given the increase in energy costs since the 2012 budget was drafted, Reed asked Secretary Sebelius to reconsider their LIHEAP budget.
Last month, Reed and Senator Olympia J. Snowe (R-ME) led a bipartisan letter with 29 of their colleagues to help restore LIHEAP funding to $5.1 billion.