Hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Subcommittee on The Climbing Costs of Heating Homes: Why LIHEAP is Essential
KENNEDY ON WHY LIHEAP IS ESSENTIAL
(As Prepared for Delivery)
I commend Chairman Dodd for holding this hearing. It's an incredibly important issue for millions of Americans struggling to keep warm and pay their bills this winter.
With energy prices rising across the board, countless families can't afford to pay for heat, particularly when the economy is getting weaker every day.
Families in New England are especially at risk, because of our region's reliance on heating oil, whose price is skyrocketing even higher than electricity and gas.
In Massachusetts, where nearly 40% of homes rely on heating oil, a gallon costs $3.39---nearly a dollar more than last year.
In the Chairman's State of Connecticut, where half of all households rely on heating oil, the price is even higher---$3.55 a gallon.
To deal with this crisis, the Department of Health and Human Services recently released $40 million in emergency assistance under LIHEAP, including $5 million for Massachusetts and $3.3 million for Connecticut. But that barely scratches the surface when prices are so high, and it does nothing to reach the millions of households who are eligible for LIHEAP, but aren't receiving assistance.
In fact, a perfect storm of adversity is hitting these families. They're losing their jobs because of the failing economy. They're losing their homes to foreclosure. And they can't afford to pay $3,000 or more to keep warm.
We held a field hearing on the issue in Boston in January, and saw the strain first hand. One of our witnesses was Margaret Gilliam of Dorchester---an elderly woman who takes care of her grandchildren.
She brought her heating oil bills to the hearing, and showed us she'd already spent nearly $4,000 so far this winter---almost as much as she spent for the entire winter last year.
LIHEAP is a lifeline for such families, but the Bush Administration has never come close to providing adequate funding for the program. Today LIHEAP reaches less than 20% of eligible households.
Incredibly, the new White House budget would actually slash LIHEAP by over 20%. They're obviously out of touch with families' basic needs. It's up to Congress to act, and today's hearing will lay the groundwork.
We have an outstanding panel of witnesses. I'm especially pleased that Dr. Deborah Frank of Boston Medical Center is here. She's well-known for her work on the relationship between LIHEAP and children's health and the "heat or eat" choices that low-income families are forced to make every day when heating assistance isn't available.
I look forward to hearing from all our witnesses, and I'm optimistic that Congress will provide the relief that's so urgently needed right now.