WASHINGTON, DC – In an effort to help people stay safe and provide fuel assistance to households struggling with rising winter heating bills, U.S. Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Susan Collins (R-ME) are once again leading the effort to restore and increase federal heating assistance to low-income families and fixed income seniors to past years’ levels.
Today, Reed and Collins led a bipartisan coalition of 39 U.S. Senators in urging the President to restore Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) to no less than $4.7 billion. Last year, the President’s budget proposed reducing LIHEAP funding from $3.47 billion down to $3.02 billion. Reed, Collins, and their colleagues were able to restore funding to $3.47 million, but after the automatic across the board cuts known as sequestration, the final level of LIHEAP funding for FY 13 was $3.29 billion.
Last month, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released $2.93 billion in LIHEAP funding as part of the continuing resolution (CR), which is keeping the federal government running through January 15, 2014. Appropriators must now work out a plan to allocate funding for the remainder of the fiscal year.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration projects heating costs will go up in the Northeast this winter when compared with last winter.
“Funding for LIHEAP is not keeping up with demand. We are doing everything we can to stretch these federal dollars, but more families are in need, heating costs are up, and we need to protect them during the cold winter months. We need to keep the pressure on this Administration to robustly fund this critical program so that thousands of families can keep their heat on in the winter. We must also continue making smart investments in weatherizing more homes to try to reduce both energy bills and fuel consumption,” said Reed, who noted that last year, Rhode Island received over $23.9 million in LIHEAP funding, assisting over 34,000 households. This year Rhode Island is expected to receive approximately $20.7 million of LIHEAP funding across the state.
“The LIHEAP program is one of our most effective tools to help senior citizens and less-fortunate households keep warm during the winter,” said Senator Collins. “Energy costs remain high and LIHEAP funding has is a vital lifeline that helps prevent people from having to choose between heating their home, paying their bills, or going without food or medicine.”
Text of the letter is provided below (PDF attached):
December 20, 2013
Dear Mr. President,
We are writing to request that you prioritize the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) in your Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 budget proposal by including no less than $4.7 billion for this program that provides critical support to our most vulnerable citizens.
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. LIHEAP households are among the most vulnerable in the country. According to the National Energy Assistance Director’s Association (NEADA), more than 90 percent of LIHEAP recipients have at least one household member who is a child, elderly, or disabled, and 20 percent of households contain at least one veteran. For these households, LIHEAP funding has been a lifeline during challenging economic times. Access to affordable home energy is not a luxury -- it is a matter of health and safety.
We understand the ongoing discretionary budget challenges. However, we are deeply concerned that funding for LIHEAP has declined more than 30 percent in recent years. Moreover, the number of households eligible for assistance continues to exceed available funding. Sequestration has further exacerbated these funding challenges. According to NEADA, the total number of households receiving LIHEAP assistance has declined by 17 percent between FY 2010 and FY 2013, from about 8.1 million to 6.7 million. Nearly 1.5 million vulnerable households have lost access to critical LIHEAP assistance and struggle to pay for the basic necessity of home energy in addition to other essentials like food and medicine.
Funding has declined, yet energy costs have remained high, reducing the purchasing power of LIHEAP assistance. Recipients have seen their average LIHEAP grant reduced by more than $100 since 2010, from $520 in FY 2010 to $406 in FY 2013. Meanwhile, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects that average winter home heating costs will rise six percent to $977 per household this winter. The average LIHEAP grant is estimated to cover less than half of the average home heating costs for a household this winter, meaning that many low-income families and seniors will have fewer resources available to meet other basic needs.
As you finalize your FY 2015 budget request, we ask that you take into account the great need for LIHEAP. We urge you to reprioritize this program within your FY 2015 budget and restore funding to this program to a level no less than $4.7 billion.
Thank you for your attention to and consideration of this important request.
Johnson, Tim (D-SD)