DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2006--Continued -- (Senate - October 05, 2005)
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Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, I know there is a reluctance, and I understand it, by the managers of the bill to have an amendment on a subject that does not fit neatly and squarely and automatically under the bill. As they know, the number of legislative opportunities here are very few now, and we are on the appropriations track. This amendment has been authorized already, so it is authorized. The question is what we are going to do to effect it.
This is an amendment to deliver $3.1 billion of emergency funding--I emphasize ``emergency'' funding--to the Low-Income Heating and Energy Assistance Program.
The tight natural gas market and the devastating impact of the recent hurricanes have resulted in what everyone knows and feels in their pocketbooks are unusually high fuel prices and very high fuel price forecasts for the foreseeable future. According to the Energy Information Agency, families are going to pay about 77 percent more for natural gas in the Midwest, 18 percent more for electricity in the South, and 33 percent more for heating oil in the Northeast. Heating oil costs for the average family using heating oil are expected to hit about $1,066 during the upcoming winter. That is $403 more than last winter, and it is $714 more than the winter heating season of 2003-2004.
Rapidly rising energy costs have an incredibly negative impact on the ability of low- and even middle-income but fixed-income individuals to be able to meet their demands. High prices are forcing working families to choose warmth over other basic necessities, or in the South, in certain seasons, obviously, cool. Those are tough choices to make. The National Energy Assistance Directors' Association found that 32 percent of families sacrificed medical care last year in order to be able to meet those prices, 24 percent failed to make rent or meet mortgage payments, and 20 percent went without food for at least a day. We have a whole bunch of people in America who are giving up food or rent or medical care in order to be able to pay for the home heating oil.
Hurricane Katrina is a stark reminder of precisely what happens when the Government does not prepare ahead of time for disaster. We have an opportunity now to prepare ahead of time. If we do not act now, families are going to be forced to choose between medical care and heat during the winter. That is just around the corner. In November, it begins to get cold in a lot of States. The fact is, having to choose between a warm house or a full stomach for your children is not a choice anyone in America, the wealthiest nation on the face of the planet, wealthiest industrial nation, ought to welcome.
The number of households receiving what is known as the LIHEAP assistance has increased from about 4.2 million in fiscal year 2002 to more than 5 million this year, which is the highest in 10 years. LIHEAP applications are expected to increase very significantly this winter. Yet the funding levels for LIHEAP are not keeping pace. LIHEAP's buying power is significantly less than when it was established. According to the Government's Consumer Price Index, what cost $100 in 1982 cost just shy of $200 in 2004. Using the CPI calculation for inflation, that means that a $1.8 billion appropriation for LIHEAP in 1982 should have been a $3.7 billion appropriation in 2004. LIHEAP currently serves less than 15 percent of those people who are eligible in the country.
I understand this amendment can be blocked procedurally. I know that. I hope that will not happen. It is a bipartisan amendment. It is not my preference to attach it to this bill, but it is our only option with the recess coming up in a few days. After the comments of the Secretary of Energy this week that the administration has no plans of asking Congress for more money, we have no choice but to say this is on the congressional agenda, this is on our radar.
I urge my colleagues to support this bipartisan amendment to add $3.1 billion for LIHEAP in the fiscal year 2006 appropriations bill. It is emergency funding. It does not require an offset as a result. It is an emergency. It is the amount we have authorized. It represents the amount we need. It is critical funding to avoid a looming but absolutely preventable crisis for millions of American families who have been hard hit by the additional costs of fuel oil and the diminishing affordability of home heating oil as the winter approaches.
I yield the floor.