Obama, Bipartisan Senators Introduce Bill to Increase Emergency LIHEAP Funding
U.S. Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) today joined a bipartisan group of senators to introduce the Keep Americans Warm Act of 2007, sponsored by Senator Bernard Sanders (I-VT). This legislation would provide an additional $1 billion in emergency funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) to ensure that millions of low-income families, senior citizens, and disabled Americans are able to heat their homes, keep their lights on, and cook their food during the coldest months of the year. Despite skyrocketing energy costs, President Bush not only proposed reducing LIHEAP funding in his Fiscal Year 2008 budget proposal, but also vetoed LIHEAP funding included in the Senate-passed version of the Labor HHS bill, putting millions of Americans at risk of not being able to heat their homes this winter. This legislation is cosponsored by Senators Norm Coleman (R-MN), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), John Kerry (D-MA), and Sherrod Brown (D-RI).
"Soaring energy costs have meant that more and more Americans have to choose between heating their homes and feeding their families," Senator Obama said. "This is not a choice our families should have to make. Ensuring all Americans have livable homes during the coldest months is a basic necessity. But I hear from too many Americans struggling to meet these costs -- senior citizens who can't pay for their medication because of heating bills and parents whose children go to bed cold at night. While LIHEAP provides help for millions of American families, the President has chosen to play politics over authorizing these emergency funds, and has risked their health and safety. This bill cannot come at a more urgent time, and must be passed immediately. I thank Senator Sanders for his leadership on this bill, and urge my colleagues to stand with us to support this program that provides assistance for those who need it the most."
Senator Sanders said, "Skyrocketing home heating bills already are stretching household budgets. In the richest country on earth, we have a moral responsibility to make sure that no one has to make a choice between food, medicine and heat for their homes. Congress must act now to deal with this national emergency."
More than two decades ago, the government enacted the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) to help low-income citizens with expensive energy costs, and assist them in making payments on basic necessities during the winter months. Over the years, this vital program has provided necessary assistance to millions of families, the disabled and the elderly during the winter.
This year, the Department of Energy predicted that Americans can expect to pay up to 22 percent more for their utility bills than last winter. As a result, the Congress approved $2.4 billion in funding for LIHEAP - which the President later vetoed. While the number of eligible households has increased to more than 37 million since the President assumed office in 2001, he proposed even less funding for 2008. Given that only 15 percent of those currently eligible, or 5.8 million households, actually receive aid, the President's veto unfairly impacts millions of Americans that need our help the most.
The Keep Americans Warm Act of 2007 would provide an additional $1 billion in emergency assistance to the overall FY 2008 LIHEAP appropriation. If supplemental funding is not approved, approximately 1 million households would not receive necessary aid this winter.
Senator Obama serves on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.