Congressmen Sander Levin, John Dingell, Dale E. Kildee and 49 other Members of the U.S. House of Representatives have urged President Bush to release emergency funding set aside to help families struggling to afford rising home energy costs. Democrats and Republicans of the Northeast/Midwest Congressional Coalition sent a letter to President Bush this week urging him to release $120 million dollars in emergency Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) funding. $100 million of those funds will expire if not used by the end of the fiscal year. In Michigan, federally funded home heating assistance to individual families was slashed this year, due to an increased demand for home heating assistance caused by record energy prices.
"There have been a record number of applicants for home energy assistance in Michigan since the start of last winter," said Edward Woods, III, Director of Communications for the Michigan Department of Human Services. "We have been forced to cut energy crisis assistance payments for heat and electricity from $550 per year to $350 because of a lack of funding. The Home Heating Credit program budget was also reduced and the average payment has decreased from $201 to $141. If more federal funds are released, we will be able to provide more assistance to qualifying households in dire need of energy assistance."
"With oil and natural gas costs skyrocketing, many families, individuals with disabilities and senior citizens are finding their home energy costs have become unaffordable," said Rep. Levin. "This federal funding is available for emergency situations. As energy costs explode, many families are certainly facing an emergency. These funds need to be released now to allow state agencies to budget an increase in assistance for Michigan families."
"Michigan has been hit hard economically, maintains the nation's highest unemployment rate, and struggles with one of the nation's highest foreclosure rates. Home heating costs should not be piled on to the burden that Michigan families are already struggling with," said Rep. Kildee. "The Administration must not delay the release of LIHEAP emergency funds. Timely relief would greatly enhance the benefit to Michigan families still paying their heating bills from last winter and those planning ahead for a cold winter."
Congressman Dingell added: "We are seeing an increase in utility prices and hearing of painful compromises made by our working families. We know the stakes here: if people can't keep warm in the winter or cool in the summer, it will lead to life or death situations. The victims are often the most vulnerable - the very youngest children or our seniors. Both deserve better from a society that has the resources. The question is do we have the will to do what's necessary? LIHEAP helps hundreds of thousands of people in my state. If these funds are released, we stand to help hundreds of thousands again. I urge the President to release these additional funds and help thousands of Michigan families."
Last winter, (October 1, 2007 through April 30, 2008), nearly 390,000 Michigan households were assisted through the Home Heating Credit, funded exclusively with federal LIHEAP money. Approximately 110,000 households were assisted through the State Emergency Relief Energy Crisis Assistance program, funded with a combination of LIHEAP and state dollars. The Energy Information Administration predicts that the cost of home heating oil will increase more than 41 percent from the fourth quarter of 2007 to the final quarter of 2008. This is on top of the 162 percent increase that occurred between January 2000 and March 2008.