In a major victory for Vermont, a big boost in federal home energy assistance was included in legislation that the Senate passed 78-12 Saturday afternoon and sent to President Bush. About twice as much is allotted for Vermont this winter compared to last. The stopgap spending bill includes a provision Senator Bernie Sanders introduced on June 24. It was cosponsored by Senator Patrick Leahy and 51 other senators. Congressman Peter Welch sponsored companion legislation in the House. "This has been a major Vermont delegation effort working with people from New England and around the country," Sanders said.
Under the $5.1 billion nationwide home energy assistance provision, Vermont could receive about $35 million this winter, up from $17 million last winter. The final amount states will receive depends on how the president distributes emergency funds included in the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. In addition to the extra funding, the measure also makes more families eligible for assistance.
"The inclusion of $5.1 billion, double the existing funding, is a real victory for seniors and families in Vermont and around the country who are concerned about soaring energy bills this winter," Sanders said. "I am gratified that with the strong support of Senator Leahy and Congressman Welch our provision will ensure that families throughout Vermont will be able to stay warm this winter."
Leahy, a member of the Appropriations Committee, said, "There's a great need for this home heating relief, and the House and Senate have given it the high priority that our families deserve. The White House has been quiet about whether the president will sign it. With winter fast approaching, I hope the president will think better of blocking this help from reaching the Vermonters who need it."
Welch said, "This critical boost in funding is long-overdue. Record high home heating prices have created Vermont's Category 5 storm, threatening the well-being of too many Vermonters already struggling to get by. This funding recognizes that pressing need. If President Bush can propose an unprecedented bailout of Wall Street, surely he can support our efforts to assure no Vermonter goes cold this winter. I am proud of the coordination and work of our delegation in pushing so hard for this critical lifeline."
With fuel prices soaring, the $5.1 billion for energy assistance almost doubles the $2.57 billion for the past year. The bill also includes $250 million for weatherization assistance. The Bush administration budget proposed only $2 billion for LIHEAP, and slashed all funds from the weatherization program.
The energy assistance was included in legislation to keep the federal government operating through March 6. Altogether, the so-called continuing resolution lumped together more than $630 billion in appropriations, including $23 billion for hurricane and flood relief, $40 billion for domestic security operations, and $41 billion to pay for medical care for military veterans. The amount for veterans' health care is $1.8 billion above what Bush requested in his budget, and $4.1 billion above this year's amount.