DISABLED VETERANS AND OTHER PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES
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Mr. KOHL. Mr. President, we are staring at an approaching disaster. Again, we face a disaster that will largely affect the poor, underprivileged, elderly, and handicapped. Again, it is a disaster that will threaten lives and drive people into bankruptcy. But this time Congress can take action to avoid this disaster. The question is will we act?
Today the approaching disaster is not a hurricane but high energy prices. Estimates are that the costs of heating the average home with natural gas will skyrocket 70 percent over last year in the Midwest. This is on top of the double-digit increases between 2003 and 2004. Utility companies in the State of Wisconsin believe that the homeowners will face heating bills in my State that are 40 percent higher than last year. For working families, these dramatic increases come on top of several months of increasing prices at the gas pump.
These high prices will force many to make difficult choices about how to spend their money, which bills to pay, and which to avoid. For many, the thermostat will be turned down to dangerous levels, prescriptions will go unfilled, and groceries will not be bought. For many elderly folks, the choice to stay warm will be dangerous, even fatal. Many disabled Americans will endanger their own health in an effort to keep their bills low.
The Federal Low-Income Home Heating Assistance, or LIHEAP, can help make some of these choices easier. LIHEAP is an extremely effective program that allows low-income people around the country to avoid being delinquent on their heating bills. The problem is that there has not been a significant increase in the funding of this program for many years, and now the rising prices have made the current funding levels unacceptably low. In past years LIHEAP has only been able to help roughly 17 percent of the eligible households, but now with rapidly rising prices the $2 billion in funding will not even be able to meet that level.
Adding $3.1 billion to LIHEAP will allow us to head off this impending catastrophe. I have voted for this amendment before, and I am glad to have the opportunity to support it again today. This money is absolutely necessary to keep my constituents safe and warm through the long Wisconsin winter. Without this money more working class people in my State will face high utility bills this winter and utility shutoffs come spring. Until Congress and the administration can figure out some way to bring energy prices down, relieving the pressure on low-income Americans should be a top priority.