Senators Make Bipartisan Push to Restore LIHEAP Funding

LIHEAP Protection Act would provide $4.7 billion to help vulnerable Americans with energy bills

WASHINGTON, DC – With energy costs rising and winter approaching, a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators led by Jack Reed (D-RI), Olympia J. Snowe (R-ME), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) are keeping the heat on Congress to restore funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).  LIHEAP is the main federal program that helps low-income families and seniors on fixed-incomes with their energy bills, providing vital assistance during the cold winter and hot summer months.

Last year Congress provided a total of $4.7 billion in LIHEAP funds for low-income households.  But as part of its efforts to control federal spending, the Obama Administration proposed a 45% cut in LIHEAP funds from last year’s level to $2.57 billion in 2012.  The Appropriations bills proposed in the Senate ($3.6 billion) and House ($3.4 billion) only partially restored this highly disproportionate cut, and with the ongoing difficult economic climate coupled with increased energy prices-such as the projected costs of heating oil this winter- Reed, Snowe, and Sanders are working to avoid a drastic reduction in energy assistance to families across the country.

Next week, the Senators plan to introduce the LIHEAP Protection Act.  This
legislation, which will maintain level-funding for the LIHEAP at last year’s
level of $4.7 billion, will 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.

“Washington needs to get its priorities straight.  Helping those in need stay safe and warm is not frivolous spending, it is basic human decency.  If Congress doesn’t act, fewer families will have access to vital assistance and people in need will literally be left out in the cold,” said Senator Reed.  “That is why we are leading the charge to restore funding for this critical program.”

“Misguided priorities from the President and a broken budget process have left thousands of Mainers vulnerable to an astounding 50 percent cut in vital heating assistance as we approach the coldest season of the year. While clearly, the federal deficit must be addressed, this draconian cut to critically important heating assistance leaves families in a potentially dangerous situation,” said Senator Snowe. “Heating oil prices are now as high as $3.85 a gallon in my state, which would mean heating winter bills as much as $3,000.  This is simply unrealistic for the 64,000 households of Maine’s least fortunate who required heating assistance last year.  As a result, we are introducing this vital legislation that would provide last year’s level of funding for the LIHEAP program.  During these troubling and challenging economic times, Mainers and Americans have enough to worry about. Simply avoiding the bitter cold in their homes this winter should not be one of those worries.”

“In the midst of this terrible recession, when poverty is increasing and home energy prices are rising, inadequate funding for the home heating assistance program could lead to a severe winter health emergency,” Senator Sanders said.

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.