WASHINGTON, DC – As states prepare their Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) programs for the coming winter months, U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) says now is the time for the Trump Administration to start distributing energy assistance to help vulnerable Americans with their energy bills and help states effectively prioritize assistance to those in need.
This week, Reed and Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) are leading a bipartisan coalition of Senators in urging the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to release funds for LIHEAP as quickly as possible.
LIHEAP is a federally funded program that provides eligible low-incomes households with help paying a portion of their heating and utility bills. Eligibility is based on a household’s combined income as well as the number of residents. President Trump’s budget proposals have sought to eliminate LIHEAP, but instead, Congress, led by Senators Reed and Collins, expanded it to provide over $3.64 billion in LIHEAP aid for 2018. In September, Reed helped secure even more funding under a major FY 2019 Appropriations spending package totaling over $3.69 billion nationally for LIHEAP, a $50 million increase over the previous year.
In a letter sent to Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, Senators Reed, Collins, and 38 of their Senate colleagues urged the Trump Administration to release LIHEAP funds without delay, writing: “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.”
In FY 2018, Rhode Island households received over $27 million in LIHEAP funding.
“LIHEAP helps people keep the heat on in their homes. It helps thousands of Rhode Island families stay warm and safe through the cold winter months,” said Senator Reed. “Disabled Americans and seniors on fixed incomes shouldn’t have to choose between paying utility bills or forgoing essentials like food and medicine. LIHEAP is an effective program that provides a lifeline to Rhode Island families struggling to pay for their home heating needs. Instead of trying to eliminate the program or hold up assistance, the Trump Administration should distribute these funds to ensure it reaches those in need.”
Rhode Island has some of the oldest housing stock in the nation and Senator Reed has led efforts to help Rhode Islanders improve energy efficiency and weatherize homes to reduce high household energy bills.
The average annual LIHEAP benefit to Rhode Island households that use the program is in the range of about $820-$850.
According to federal data included in a new report by the Energy Information Administration, nearly a third of U.S. households have struggled to pay their energy bills, with about one in five households reducing or forgoing food, medicine, and other necessities to pay energy bills. “Of the 25 million households that reported forgoing food and medicine to pay energy bills, 7 million faced that decision nearly every month,” the report noted.
In addition to Reed and Collins, the letter was signed by Senators: Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Chris Coons (D-DE), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Patty Murray (D-WA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Ed Markey (D-MA), Tina Smith (D-MN), Bernie Sanders (D-VT), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Gary Peters (D-MI), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Angus King (I-ME), John Hoeven (R-ND), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Bob Casey (D-PA), and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN).
Federal law requires that LIHEAP be distributed to states according to a formula that incorporates several factors, including: changes in average temperatures; the predominant types of heating fuel sources used in each state; fuel prices; and the number of low-income households.
Rhode Islanders seeking fuel assistance may apply with their local community action agency. Applicants must be prepared to provide a variety of documentation, including: age and income verification, Social Security number, photo identification, and their most recent home heating bill.
The full text of the letter follows:
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:
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 the LIHEAP funds included in the fiscal year 2019 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Act as quickly as possible.
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 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.