WASHINGTON, DC – With colder weather approaching and energy costs projected to increase this winter, U.S. Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Susan Collins (R-ME) led a bipartisan coalition of 40 senators in urging the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to release funds for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) as swiftly and at the highest level possible under the current continuing resolution.  The Senators say the federal LIHEAP funding is a crucial lifeline that assists low-income households and seniors on fixed incomes pay their energy bills and stay safe during the winter.  HHS typically releases 90 percent of the $3.7 billion full year appropriation under a continuing resolution.

“This is a difficult time and, unfortunately, the forecast is calling for higher energy bills this winter.  LIHEAP can help offset some of those utility costs.  It is a public health program that helps people stay safe and warm during the cold winter months.  LIHEAP ensures struggling seniors don’t have to face the ‘heat or eat’ dilemma by keeping their energy bills affordable,” said Senator Reed, who estimated that Rhode Island should receive over $20 million in LIHEAP funds this year.  “LIHEAP offers a critical lifeline.  Congress appropriated this money to help people pay their energy bills and the Trump Administration needs to get the money out to states to assist those in need.”

In addition to securing $3.7 billion in LIHEAP in the fiscal year 2020 appropriations law, Senator Reed also led the successful effort to include $900 million for LIHEAP in the CARES Act.  As a result, Rhode Island received an additional $5.87 million in federal LIHEAP aid.  Senator Reed also joined his colleagues in the House in calling for at least $4.3 billion in additional LIHEAP funding in a future coronavirus relief package.  The most recent version of the HEROES Act includes $4.5 billion for LIHEAP.

The average cost of home heating is unaffordable for millions of low-income households, costing an average of $911 per year nationally.  The timely release of these funds will provide critical assistance to families unemployed as a result of the pandemic pay their energy bills.  According to the National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association, 15 to 20 percent of residential customers are at least 60 days behind on their electric and natural gas bills.  As of July 31, 2020, the estimated resulting electric arrearages are between $8 billion and $9.9 billion and natural gas arrearages are between $975 million and $1.3 billion.

LIHEAP is a federally funded program that helps low-income households with their home energy bills by providing payment and/or energy crisis assistance.  Rhode Island’s LIHEAP is administered by the Department of Human Services, and accessed through local Community Action Agencies.  Last year, about 30,000 Rhode Islanders received LIHEAP assistance.  The average annual LIHEAP benefit to Rhode Island households that use the program is in the range of about $720.

Rhode Islanders wishing to apply for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program may go to the Rhode Island Department of Human Services website to get more information and links to an online application.  Or, Rhode Islanders may contact their local Community Action Agency. Eligibility for LIHEAP is based on income, family size, and the availability of resources.

In addition to Senators Reed and Collins, the bipartisan letter was signed by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Patty Murray (D-WA), John Hoeven (R-ND), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Bob Casey (D-PA), Tina Smith (D-MN), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Angus King (I-ME), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Ed Markey (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Chris Coons (D-DE), Gary Peters (D-MI), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Mark Warner (D-VA), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Doug Jones (D-AL), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL).

Text of the letter follows:

October 14, 2020
The Honorable Alex M. Azar II
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
330 C Street, SW
Washington, D.C. 20416

Dear Secretary Azar:

With passage of the continuing resolution, we write to urge the Department of Health and Human Services to release Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) funds as quickly and at the highest level possible.

As the main federal program that helps low-income households and seniors with their energy bills, LIHEAP provides critical assistance during the cold winter and hot summer months.  October marks the start of the heating season for many states and low-income families and seniors will be facing additional strains on their household budgets.  In addition, millions of low-income families, including seniors, are facing new and severe financial hardship due to the coronavirus, making the assistance provided through LIHEAP more important than ever. 

As state agencies work to prepare their LIHEAP programs for the coming winter, it is crucial that they have the resources they need to assist low-income households and seniors as soon as possible, especially in light of the current health crisis.  As such, we request that you quickly release LIHEAP funds at the highest level possible to allow states to prepare for the upcoming season, so that low-income households do not have to choose between paying for heat and affording other necessities like food or medicine.

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.