Cantwell Continues Fight to Get Home Heating Help to Seniors and Families in Need
Wednesday, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) joined a coalition of other senators to call on Congress to approve much needed funding for an emergency federal heating assistance program. Cantwell has been a leader in the fight to increase home heating assistance, and has worked to confront skyrocketing energy costs hurting families and businesses across the country.
"We need to help bring families and seniors in from the cold," said Cantwell, a member of the Senate Energy Committee. "If we don't act, hundreds of working families could be forced to choose between heating their homes, putting food on the table, and buying medicine for their children. We can't leave seniors and the poor out in the cold when energy companies are pulling in record profits."
In a letter to Majority Leader Bill Frist, the senators requested a vote on a measure that would provide an additional $2.92 billion for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). Without additional funding, only a limited number of households applying for LIHEAP aid will receive assistance with this winter's through-the-roof home heating costs. According to the Energy Information Agency, households heating with natural gas will face costs 35 percent above what they paid last winter.
Last year, the Washington state LIHEAP program received $41.6 million to help the state's poor handle their energy bills. With those funds, energy assistance was provided to 72,000 households-roughly 24 percent of the state's eligible population. Last October, Cantwell sponsored an amendment that would have provided assistance to another 36,000 households this winter. Fifty-four Senators voted in favor of the measure, six short of the supermajority needed-the second time last fall that fewer than 50 Senators stopped the Senate from helping the elderly, low-income families, and disabled individuals pay their heating bills this winter.
LIHEAP is a federal block grant program that provides states with annual funding to operate home energy assistance programs for low-income households. In addition to helping to pay energy bills for low-income families and the elderly, LIHEAP helps to fund energy crisis intervention programs, low-cost residential weatherization, and other energy-related home repairs.
[The text of the Senators' letter follows below]
January 25, 2006
The Honorable William H. Frist
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510
Dear Majority Leader Frist:
High energy prices are threatening the health and economic well-being of low-income households across the United States. No family in our nation should be forced to choose between heating their home and putting food on the table for their children. No senior citizen should have to decide between buying life saving prescriptions or paying utility bills. Unfortunately, these stark choices are a reality for too many Americans across the nation. We strongly urge you to take immediate action to help low-income Americans by bringing a measure to the floor that provides an additional $2.92 billion for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), as supported by the majority of the Senate.
Since October 5, 2005, the Senate has voted six times to increase LIHEAP funding to $5.1 billion. Bipartisan amendments offered to the Department of Defense Appropriations bill, the Transportation, Treasury and HUD Appropriations bill, the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations bill, and the Tax Reconciliation bill received a majority of the Senate's support. Unfortunately, these amendments were not given the opportunity for a straight up-or-down vote. In December, 63 Senators supported a successful motion to instruct, which directed the Budget Reconciliation Conference Comittee to provide $2.92 billion in additional funding for LIHEAP in FY 2006. Yet, the conference report for the Budget Reconciliation bill includes only $1 billion, with this spending designated for FY 2007. Procedural maneuvers are preventing vital assistance from reaching Americans. These families and seniors deserve help from the federal government.
As you know, the Department of Defense (DoD) Appropriations Conference report originally provided an additional $2 billion for LIHEAP. The LIHEAP funding provided by the DoD conferees was designated as emergency funding. The emergency designation funding is warranted given the high cost of energy this winter, and the lack of growth in workers' wages. Unfortunately, other more controversial matters included in the conference report prevented the retention of the LIHEAP money in final action on that bill.
The Energy Information Agency forecasts that households heating with natural gas will experience an average increase of 35 percent over last winter. Households heating with oil will see an increase of 23 percent, and households using propane can expect an increase of 17 percent. In addition, wages are not keeping pace with inflation. The Real Earnings report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the average hourly earnings of production and non-supervisory workers on private nonfarm payrolls were lower in December 2005 than they were a year ago, after accounting for inflation. Working families are continuing to lose ground, meaning more families also need LIHEAP assistance this year. Paychecks are being stretched thinner as families face higher prices for home heating, health care, and education.
We respectfully request that you bring a measure to the Senate floor at the end of this month, or at the latest, early February, that funds LIHEAP at the $5.1 billion level supported by the Senate. We also urge that these resources be allocated in such a way that they will benefit all states and ensure they receive this necessary assistance promptly. American families and seniors have been waiting too long for relief from high energy costs. Thank you for your consideration for this essential request.
Jack Reed, Edward Kennedy,Maria Cantwell, Tom Harkin, Byron L. Dorgan, Jeff Bingaman, Paul S. Sarbanes, Barbara Boxer, Charles E. Schumer, Herb Kohl, John F. Kerry, Patrick J. Leahy, Barack Obama, Debbie Stabenow, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Carl Levin, Daniel K. Akaka, Mark Dayton, Max Baucus, Joseph R. Biden, Barbara A. Mikulski