WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Senators Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine), Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) - longtime champions of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program - today called on Senate leadership to make the restoration of home heating aid funding a priority when Congress returns to session in January.
The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2012 voted on this morning includes $3.5 billion in funding for LIHEAP in 2012. While this is an increase from the cut in President Obama's Fiscal Year 2012 budget of $2.57 billion, it is still a dramatic reduction from last year's $4.7 billion.
The senators previously introduced the "LIHEAP Protection Act" to restore the funding for 2012 to the $4.7 billion level. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is a cosponsor of the bill.
In a letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell today, the senators requested they schedule floor time to consider the legislation in January to resolve the cut in funding.
In the letter, Senators Snowe, Reed, and Sanders wrote:
"We have introduced legislation to retain funding for the LIHEAP program at last year's level. Specifically, the LIHEAP Protection Act (S.1961) would provide $4.7 billion in funding for the program. While the purchasing power of the program has declined, due in part to the rise in energy prices, this amount would be critical in avoiding dangerous situations and impossible choices in thousands of households across the country. It is our intention that this legislation would be fully consistent with the Budget Control Act of 2011. We would ask that you work with us to address this situation and schedule floor time when Congress returns in January to resolve this dramatic funding cut."
BACKGROUND: Last year Congress provided a total of $4.7 billion in LIHEAP funds for low-income households. The Obama Administration proposed a 45% cut in LIHEAP funds from last year's level to $2.57 billion in 2012. The omnibus bill considered in the Senate this morning only partially restored this highly disproportionate cut to $3.5 billion, and with the ongoing difficult economic climate coupled with increased energy prices-such as the projected costs of heating oil this winter - Snowe, Reed, and Sanders are working to avoid a drastic reduction in energy assistance to families across the country.
The Senators introduce the LIHEAP Protection Act, S. 1961, on December 7th, which will maintain level-funding for LIHEAP at last year's level of $4.7 billion and help low-income households make ends meet by offsetting home heating and cooling expenses. According to the National Energy Assistance Director's Association (NEADA), last year LIHEAP provided vital energy assistance to 8.9 million households-an increase of 54 percent since 2008. NEADA projects a record 9.4 million households will be served in 2012.
LIHEAP is a unique program where if funding is not finalized before winter, millions of low income households run the risk of not receiving assistance during the coldest months. Given the uncertainty in the full year appropriations for LIHEAP, which resulted in the release of only $1.7 billion in LIHEAP funding to states in October, some states have already begun lowering LIHEAP grant amounts.