TRANSPORTATION, TREASURY, THE JUDICIARY, HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT, AND RELATED AGENCIES APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2006 -- (Senate - October 20, 2005)
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Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, I take a moment of the Senate's time to reiterate my very strong support for the amendment offered by my colleague and friend, Senator Reed of Rhode Island, and my colleague, Senator Kerry, and myself on increasing emergency funding for the LIHEAP program. This program is a lifeline to many poor individuals on fixed incomes in my state of Massachusetts and across the nation. It is the help and assistance that is provided to low-income, elderly and disabled households to defray the steep costs of home heating. The average LIHEAP household has an income of less than $10 thousand. These individuals are trying to make ends meet.
According to the Energy Information Administration of the Energy Department, this year natural gas prices for heating one's home will increase by almost 50 percent over last year, home heating oil will increase 32 percent, electricity will increase 5 percent. In Massachusetts, the current average price per gallon of heating oil is $2.51. This is an increase of 30 percent over the average price per gallon last October.
These aren't just abstract numbers. They represent huge burdens on real people. Just last week, Mayor Menino and I met with low-income seniors at the Curtis Hall Community Center in Massachusetts. These families are caught between a rock and a hard place about how they are going to pay their heating bills. Are they going to cut back on food? Are they going to cut back on prescription drugs which are so necessary? Are they going to try and continue to put the temperature level down to such a low degree that it threatens their health and well-being? Those are the cruel choices they are faced with today.
So many senior citizens are looking into the future, they are looking at the impact of sky-rocketing heating bills over the course of the winter, and they are frightened and scared. They are wondering who is going to give them some help and assistance.
Our amendment increases emergency funding for the LIHEAP program by $3.1 billion. This funding on top of the President's budget request for $2 billion would bring the program to $5.1 billion -the level authorized in the Energy Policy Act of 2005.
Funding for LIHEAP has been stagnant for more than a decade. It has seen significant loss in terms of purchasing power. We have a program that has been stagnant for over 10 years, the program has lost purchasing power, and absolutely dramatic increases in heating bills. We need to provide help and assistance to low income families. This amendment provides that much needed assistance.
I hope we have broad support. This is an essential amendment. We can talk about food; we can talk about medicines. We ought to put heat right in that same category.
I will mention some of the low income individuals struggling to survive: Wilhelmina Mathis of Dorchester. Wilhelmina is 71 years old and lives alone. She keeps her thermostat set at 60 degrees to save money. She hopes the Federal Government will come through with more LIHEAP money before she runs out of a way to pay her heating bill. She says:
I turn down the thermostat as low as I can and sometimes I turn it off and put on extra sweaters. I don't know now much longer I can keep doing this.''
Jacqueline Arroyo of Roxbury, MA, is a single mom who lives in Roxbury with her baby daughter Jessica. She is a nurse who lost her job in August 2004 and has been working temporary jobs ever since. Her salary has not been enough to cover all of her bills. Her electricity bill is now $4,000, and she worries about how she will pay off the debt before this winter.
Emory Baily has MS, and it is hard for him to get around. Now the comfort of his home is in jeopardy. Any day the heating oil will run out. The assistance he receives from LIHEAP has run out as temperatures begin to fall.
In Boston, a 79-year-old man lives with a sick wife. He worked hard on a loading dock most of his life and retired with a pension, but he has a hard time paying all the bills. He receives LIHEAP benefits, but the fuel oil assistance has been exhausted. We are not even halfway through the winter.
In Haverhill, MA, a single mother lives with her 18-year-old son, who is handicapped, her 19-year-old daughter, and her daughter's child, who has a medical condition. Both mother and daughter are employed as school bus monitors. They have little or no income over the summer. Their rent is $950 a month. Their last gas bill was $1,729. Because they could not pay their gas bill, their gas was shut off. Even if they qualify for $600 in LIHEAP assistance, the gas company may refuse to reconnect the service unless the family comes up with another $400 to $800 toward the back pay.
These are typical families. This is the issue we have before the Senate. It is truly a life-and-death situation. It certainly deserves the support of our colleagues in the Senate. I hope that will be reflected in the vote at 2:30.