Gov. Douglas supports Sanders bill to boost LIHEAP funding (Times Argus)

MONTPELIER -- Governor Jim Douglas today praised Sen. Bernie Sanders' proposal to boost federal emergency home heating assistance by $1 billion and called on the Congress to investigate rising fuel prices.

In a release, Douglas said the additional federal money, which would be put into the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), is needed to help families offset the rising cost of home heating fuel. According to the Energy Information Administration, a typical household will pay almost $1,000 this winter to keep their homes warm, a jump of up to 22 percent from last year.

"At a time when the cost of heating our homes is increasing beyond the ability of many to pay, it would be unconscionable for Congress to support the President's proposal to cut LIHEAP funding to senior citizens and low-income families. Under the present circumstances, the President and the Congress should be looking for ways to increase support for our most vulnerable citizens. That's why I support Senator Sanders' proposal."

Because federal assistance has not kept pace with fuel costs, the state has stepped in to help low-income Vermonters. Since taking office, the Douglas administration has invested $17.7 million more state dollars into Vermont's LIHEAP program. Vermont provides twice the assistance to LIHEAP recipients as any other state in the region, replacing the lack of support from the federal government. Vermont's average LIHEAP benefit in the 2006-2007 heating season totaled $1100.
"Vermont is very generous, but we cannot do it alone. We need a federal partner that is willing to accept its responsibilities," Douglas said in the release.

Douglas also said the U.S. Congress should begin a bipartisan investigation of escalating fuel prices, noting that he and a bipartisan group of 21 of his colleagues had called for a similar investigation in May of this year.

"Once again we see prices for fuel increasing far beyond the ability of working families to pay and with no real justification from the big oil companies," Douglas said. "As the price of fuel continues to rise, oil companies continue to make record-setting profits. The indifference of oil companies to the struggles of our working families certainly suggests these companies value profits more than people. It's time for the Congress to conduct a real investigation into what exactly is driving these price increases and what can be done to lower them."

Congress has the authority and the ability to investigate fuel costs and put real pressure on the big oil companies to do the right thing, the governor said, adding that the congressional investigation should be aggressive and expeditious.

"High fuel prices hurt low and middle income Vermonters the most. And while my administration will continue to hold the line on in-state proposals that would make fuel more expensive, the long-term solution to this problem can only be achieved by a federal government that holds these companies accountable for their actions," Douglas said. "Americans deserve honest answers and real solutions to this recurring and unresolved problem."