Blocking $11 Million to Keep Vermonters Warm this Winter
Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) today said Vermont would be in line for $10.8 million of a $5 billion appropriation for home heating assistance included in a spending bill that Senate Republicans are trying to block.
One of the last must-do measures on the agenda before Congress adjourns for the year, the appropriations bill would prevent a 40 percent cut in the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). Vermont's $10.8 million share would help keep senior citizens on fixed incomes, families with children and the disabled warm this winter.
The critical funding for Vermont is in danger, however, because some Republicans have mounted a filibuster in the Senate and even threatened to require the entire 1,924-page bill to be read aloud on the Senate floor.
Sanders said, "At a time when heating oil prices are skyrocketing, we have got to pass the omnibus appropriations bill so that no one in Vermont goes cold this winter. Without these additional funds, seniors and low-income Americans in Vermont and throughout the country will find themselves facing very painful choices on how to stretch already stretched budgets."
Leahy said, "In Vermont, where our winter temperatures average below freezing and the lows dip into the single digits, our low-income families, Vermonters with disabilities and senior citizens should not be forced to decide between paying their home energy bills or affording basic necessities such as food, rent, or prescription drugs. Heat in winter is a necessity, not an option. At a time when we are trying to help Americans recover from the Great Recession, some in Congress from warmer states like South Carolina and Arizona would rather use the Senate's limited time to give enormous tax breaks to multi-millionaires rather than help America's most needy and vulnerable households."
Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) said, "Now is not the time to play political games with the safety and well-being of low-income Americans. For Vermonters who rely upon heating assistance to make it through a cold winter, this sort of stalling tactic is deplorable. LIHEAP should be fully funded - and it should be fully funded now."
Federal funding for the heating assistance program was nearly doubled in the last two years under a provision sponsored by Sanders. Leahy cosponsored that 2008 legislation and Welch sponsored companion legislation that year in the House.
So far this year, Vermont has only received a total of $14.8 million for LIHEAP, compared to the $25.6 million in regular funding it received last year and will receive if the majority in the Senate can overcome a Republican filibuster.
This heating season, Vermont estimates that more than 27,000 households will receive benefits, up from 20,350 last year. Because the demand has increased but the amount available so far has decreased and the number of eligible households has expanded, the average benefit is being reduced from about $1,100 last year to about $660 this heating season.
Leahy, Sanders and Welch signed letters to the House and Senate Appropriations committees last month urging them to maintain the funding for LIHEAP at the 2010 level of $5.1 billion.
After Congress doubled funding for home heating assistance in 2009, a record 8.3 million households nationwide received aid. This winter, as a result of the lingering recession, many more families are expected to need help keeping the heat turned on.