Floor Statement on Low Income Home Energy Assistance
MR. REED: Mr. President, I would like to engage my colleagues, Senator Harkin and Senator Specter, in a colloquy on the Fiscal Year 2008 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill.
I want to thank Senator Harkin and Senator Specter for their work on this bill. The bill restores cuts proposed in the President's budget while balancing many important national priorities. The President's proposed budget request of $141 billion for the programs funded by this bill is clearly inadequate and I am glad the Committee on Appropriations allocated additional funding to this bill. However, even with this additional funding, I recognize the difficult budget constraints facing the subcommittee as it tries to reverse previous funding cuts to important education, labor, and health and human service programs.
One program particularly important to working Americans families and seniors is the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP. I know the chairman and ranking member are strong supporters of this program. Studies have shown that energy insecurity affects the health, nutrition, and learning of children. LIHEAP provides vital assistance to families, disabled individuals, and seniors so they don't have to choose between eating and paying an energy bill. With utility shutoffs and arrears on the rise, we cannot afford to support the President's cut of $379 million to the program. In my home State, utility shutoffs for nonpayment are at their highest level in 10 years. The State's data shows that through August, there were 20,326 shutoffs for the year. If this is not bad enough, the Energy Information Administration's Winter Outlooks estimates that the average household will spend $891 to heat with natural gas this winter and a family heating with oil can expect to spend $1,785 this winter. We need to increase LIHEAP funding, not cut it as proposed in the President's budget. I want to thank the chairman and ranking member for restoring funding to the Fiscal Year 2007 level, but it is my hope that in conference we will be able to raise LIHEAP funding to $2.662 billion, the level provided in the House.
I would also like to bring another issue to your attention. The House bill contains report language that would direct the national center for public health informatics to continue to fund the establishment of a nationwide database of contact information for practicing physicians. In the event of a terrorist attack, natural disaster, or a pandemic, Federal agencies and State and local health departments could use this database to contact physicians to request their help. In my State of Rhode Island, the Rhode Island Medical Board participated in the pilot project of this program. Based on the success of that pilot project, I support its expansion nationwide. I hope that in conference, we can keep this House report language.
Mr. HARKIN: Mr. President, I thank my colleague from Rhode Island for sharing his views with me on LIHEAP and the national center for public health informatics.
We are facing a real crisis in Iowa and across the Nation. Last year in Iowa the average LIHEAP benefit was reduced by 30 percent. With record energy costs projected for this winter, many Iowa families are worried about how they will pay their heating bills. No family should have to choose between paying an energy bill and putting food on the table for their children. For this reason I look forward to working with my colleague to increase funding for the LIHEAP program in conference.
Mr. SPECTER: Mr. President, the LIHEAP program benefits many families and seniors in Pennsylvania. It provides a vital safety net for these households so they do not have to make the choice between prescription drugs and heat, or paying a grocery bill or energy bill. I look forward to working with Chairman Harkin and Senator Reed on increasing funding for this program in conference.