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Letter to the Honorable Don Nickles and the Honorable Kent Conrad

By:
Date:
Location: Unknown

March 7, 2003
 
The Honorable Don Nickles
Chairman
Committee on the Budget
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510
 

The Honorable Kent Conrad
Ranking Member
Committee on the Budget
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Chairman Nickles and Ranking Member Conrad:
 
The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) provides a vital safety net for our nation's low-income households. For many low-income families, disabled individuals and senior citizens living on fixed incomes, home energy costs are unaffordable. These families often carry a higher energy burden than most Americans - spending up to 20 percent of their income on home energy bills. We are writing to request that the budget allocation for the income support function provide $3 billion for LIHEAP in FY2004 and that the allocation provide for advanced appropriations for FY2005. With $3 billion in regular funding and advanced appropriations, LIHEAP can help working low-income families and senior citizens maintain economic stability.

Last year, states served more than 4 million households with LIHEAP assistance. This is only about 15 percent of the 30 million households who are eligible for assistance. We recognize the difficult choices that you face in shaping the fiscal year 2004 budget, however, we believe that the strong and continued growth in households seeking LIHEAP assistance demonstrates that the funding needed for this program has never been greater. The LIHEAP program remains seriously underfunded. The program needs over $3 billion simply to equal the purchasing power it provided in 1982. For example, this year the State of Oklahoma anticipates it will serve 100,000 households - a 54 percent increase over last winter. For four of the last five years, the LIHEAP benefit level has remained at the 1997 level despite increases in residential energy prices. In North Dakota, spending for the LIHEAP program rose 21 percent due to increased residential energy costs this winter.

Without LIHEAP assistance, low-income families and senior citizens face the impossible choice between paying their home energy bills or affording other basic necessities such as prescription drugs, housing and food. The Boston Medical Center found that many poor children with chronic health conditions start to lose weight and suffer additional health problems associated with malnutrition in the winter because their families are spending less of their income on food and medicine and more on fuel bills. In Iowa, the State surveyed households receiving LIHEAP and found that 21 percent reported going without needed medical care and/or prescription drugs and 12 percent reported going without food in order to pay their heating bill. Low-income households face a disproportionately high energy burden which makes LIHEAP assistance critical to maintaining the health and safety of these citizens. Ensuring $3 billion for the program will help ensure that the Federal government meets its obligation to provide for the health and welfare of its citizens.

Advance funding for LIHEAP enables states to pre-purchase fuel for the winter heating season during the summer when prices are lower. State LIHEAP Directors start planning for the winter heating season in spring and early summer. Without advanced funding, state directors are unable to effectively and fiscally plan for the upcoming winter. Advance LIHEAP funding allows states to plan more efficiently and improve program management, and therefore, be more economical with limited Federal resources. It also ensures that states provide timely assistance to low-income families who cannot afford to wait.

For fiscal year 2003, Congress appropriated $100 million in additional funding for the regular LIHEAP program. A total of $2 billion in LIHEAP funding was available to help states address the higher energy costs faced by residents. This allowed states to serve additional senior citizens and families needing assistance this year or increase benefit levels to help LIHEAP households address higher energy burdens.

Demand for LIHEAP assistance is likely to remain high and continue to grow given the current level of unemployment, the remaining high energy burden faced by low-income households and greater program outreach. Three billion dollars for the regular program and advanced funding will help states reach a greater percentage of the 30 million eligible households by creating an effective and broad safety net for those people least able to pay their utility bills. Thank you for your consideration of this request.

Sincerely,

Senator Susan M. Collins (R-ME), Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN), Senator Paul Sarbanes (D-MD), Senator Mike DeWine (R-OH), Senator John Kerry (D-MA), Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Senator James Jeffords (I-VT), Senator Mark Dayton (D-MN), Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Senator John Breaux (D-LA), Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), Senator George Voinovich (R-OH), Senator Evan Bayh (D-IN), Senator Jon Corzine (D-NJ), Senator John Warner (R-VA), Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), Senator John Rockefeller (D-WV), Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN), Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Senator Bob Graham (D-FL), Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI), Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL), Senator Tom Daschle (D-ND)  

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