Home Heating Help for Vermont

BURLINGTON, October 9 - Congress recently doubled funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program to $5.1 billion. Vermont could receive $35 million in federal funding this winter, up from $17 million last winter.

The legislation tracked a bill introduced in June by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and cosponsored by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). Representative Peter Welch (D-Vt.) sponsored companion legislation in the House. At a delegation press conference in Vermont today, Sanders said:

"These are tough times for Vermonters all across the state. We are in the midst of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. The stock market is tumbling. The value of Vermonters' 401(k) plans and IRAs are being eroded forcing many older Americans to postpone or put off altogether their plans for retirement.

"Long before the financial crisis hit Wall Street, an economic crisis hit middle class families hard. Last winter and throughout the spring, I received heart-wrenching letters and e-mails from hundreds of Vermonters telling me about their struggles just to make ends meet. The No. 1 concern they had was the skyrocketing price of energy, including gasoline and heating oil.

"In the midst of this financial and economic crisis, we are here today to let Vermonters know that despite all of the bad economic news, we do have some very good news. Based on legislation I introduced last June (the Warm in Winter and Cool in Summer Act) - a bill that was co-sponsored by Senator Leahy and 51 other senators and introduced in the House by Representative Welch, Congress was able to double federal funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. As a result of this legislation, funding will be increased from $2.57 billion last year to $5.1 billion for this winter. The amount of federal funds available in Vermont for this winter is expected to increase from $17 million to $35 million.

"Frankly, passage of this legislation should have been a no-brainer. If we did not substantially increase funding for LIHEAP, senior citizens on fixed incomes, persons with disabilities and families with children in Vermont and throughout the northern part of the country would have gone cold this winter. Some might have frozen to death. Others would have had to make the unacceptable choice of whether to put food on the table, pay for their prescription drugs, or heat their homes. In the richest country on the face of the earth, no American should have to make that choice.

"Unfortunately, nothing in Washington is that simple. Disgracefully, President Bush threatened to veto this legislation. Instead of increasing funding, he proposed to slash LIHEAP by $570 million, although the price of heating oil has nearly quadrupled since he has been in office. And, last July, Republicans in the Senate filibustered t his legislation delaying its passage, even though the Senate voted in favor of moving it forward.

"But, the stakes were simply too high to give up on this legislation and in a tri-partisan effort that included members from all across the country, we finally succeeded when this bill passed as part of the Continuing Resolution - legislation to keep the government running - and thankfully was signed into law.

"Now that Congress has stepped-up to the plate, we look forward to working with the Douglas administration to expand LIHEAP to as many Vermonters as possible. With this increased federal funding, thousands of additional Vermont households who didn't receive a grant last winter will be able to get the help they need to stay warm this winter. And, assuming the State just puts in the same amount of funding for this program as it did last year ($6.3 million), even thousands more will be able to participate in this program.

"The bottom-line is that all of us -- on the federal level and on state level -- must work together to ensure that every Vermonter will be able to stay warm this winter. This increase federal funding will help make that happen."