MAKING AVAILABLE FUNDS FOR THE LOW-INCOME HOME ENERGY ASSISTANCE PROGRAM, 2006--Continued
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Mr. SANTORUM. Mr. President, today I rise to address the rising costs faced by Americans as they try to heat their homes this winter. Obtaining affordable heating assistance each winter, and cooling assistance during the summer months, is critical to hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians and millions of Americans. Unfortunately, projections from the Energy Information Administration this January show that on average, consumers will spend nearly 35 percent more for natural gas this winter than they did last winter.
The primary Federal heating assistance program is the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program. I represent a Commonwealth that depends heavily on this program. My State also has a high percentage of elderly citizens; they are especially vulnerable to cold winter temperatures. Overall, the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare reports that it distributed LIHEAP funds to approximately 462,000 households during the 2004-2005 winter, with 128,000 of these recipients being elderly.
While I am pleased that my Commonwealth ranks second in the Nation in the total Federal LIHEAP assistance distributed, more has to be done to help Pennsylvanians in need. At current funding levels, only 15-percent of LIHEAP-eligible households are served in my home State.
As a member of the Special Committee on Aging, I am pleased that Chairman Smith has recognized the importance of this program for many low-income senior citizens. This past June, my colleague from Oregon convened a hearing to examine the effect of energy prices on the elderly. However, much has changed across the national energy landscape since that hearing. The tragedies of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita put severe pressure on our energy industries, increasing costs of oil and natural gas. Now that the winter has arrived, the increasing cost of home heating fuel weighs heavily on the minds of the elderly and low-income individuals, and it is time for the Senate to further address this vital issue.
In the beginning of January, I chaired a field hearing for the Special Committee on Aging near my hometown of Pittsburgh, PA, to revisit this critical issue and hear from a variety of witnesses about ways in which the Government and private sector are helping the elderly and others stay warm. Representatives from the Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Energy, Pennsylvania State Department of Public Welfare, and private sector organizations and utilities testified in support of LIHEAP.
The testimony of Pennsylvania State secretary of public welfare Estelle Richman was especially troubling. Secretary Richman testified that, by December 30, 2005, her agency had received over 320,000 LIHEAP applications. This is a 5 percent increase over 2005, which means that over 17,000 additional Pennsylvania households have requested heating assistance already this winter. Furthermore, the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare has already seen a 15-percent increase in crisis home heating assistance applications.
Pennsylvania is not alone in facing such difficulties. According to Assistant Secretary for the Administration for Children and Families, Wade Horn, his agency assists nearly 5 million households each year. However, those who are eligible for these benefits far outnumber those who receive this assistance.
As a Senate, we need to address this growing national problem. Each winter, our Government is faced with distributing emergency LIHEAP funds, while millions of Americans are stuck out in the cold. This past year, we tried, in a bipartisan fashion, to appropriate additional funding for LIHEAP. Unfortunately, we were not able to garner enough support for those provisions to pass.
This year we find ourselves in a worse situation than we did last year. When I travel throughout Pennsylvania, I continually hear from my constituents their concerns about rising energy costs and what we, the Congress, are doing to help. Now we have our chance to provide additional assistance that will benefit millions of Americans in the short term. However, while we need to pass this additional LIHEAP funding, we also need to look toward long-term solutions for our Nation's energy needs.
As we are all aware, there is no one solution to our Nation's energy problems. However, by increasing our domestic supplies and production capacity, we can take steps towards lowering the cost of energy for all Americans. We also need to promote alternative energy solutions that utilize state-of-the-art technological advancements like coal-to-liquid fuel advancements. Without this combination of current and new technologies, the costs faced by consumers at the pump and in their home heating bills will only continue to increase.
While this is clearly a long-term problem that we, as a body, need to address, I am proud to support my colleague from Maine, Senator Snowe, in her effort to provide additional LIHEAP funding this winter. This measure will assist thousands of Pennsylvanians and millions across the country. For this, as well as the reasons I have cited, I urge my colleagues to support this measure that assists countless senior citizens and low-income Americans.