Release: Vermont Senators Seek Home Heating Assistance

BURLINGTON, Vt., Nov. 23 – U.S. Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) today called for full funding of the federal Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

Thanks to legislation by Sanders, federal funding for the heating assistance program was nearly doubled in the last two years. Leahy cosponsored Sanders’ 2008 legislation and Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) sponsored companion legislation that year in the House.

Because Congress has not yet approved spending bills for the coming year, however, initial allocations by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for the energy assistance program were about 40 percent less than last year’s levels.

Sanders and Leahy signed a letter on Monday to leaders of the Senate Appropriations Committee urging them to fund the program for seniors and low-income families at last year’s $5.1 billion level.

“Many Vermont families are still struggling in this difficult economy.  For them, as for all of us in Vermont, heat in wintertime is not a choice but a necessity.  Keeping LIHEAP’s lifeline at the ready needs to be a high budget priority,” Leahy said.

“During these very difficult times, we have got to make sure that not one Vermonter goes cold this winter or has to make the unacceptable choice between heating their homes and feeding their families,” Sanders said.  “LIHEAP is a lifeline to dignity for thousands of Vermont senior citizens on fixed incomes, the disabled, and families with children.  Fully funding this program is essential this winter.”

Vermont was allocated $15 million instead of the more than $25 million the state would receive if the if the program was fully funded.

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.