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Letter to The Honorable Daniel Inouye, Chairman, Senate Committee on Appropriations

Today, U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and 41 of his Senate colleagues called on the leaders of the Senate Committee on Appropriations to extend funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) at fiscal year 2010 levels. Full LIHEAP funding was included in October's Continuing Resolution, which funds government agencies at 2010 levels until an appropriations bill can be passed for 2011. However, the Department of Health and Human Services provided grants to states based on the lower numbers that Senate Appropriators approved for FY2011, meaning that Minnesota could face significant shortfalls in fiscal year 2011. Unless Congress maintains last year's funding levels, the LIHEAP grant amount for Minnesota would be cut by 40 percent from fiscal year 2010.

"While our economy is showing signs of recovery, millions of Americans are still out of work and struggling to make ends meet," said Sen. Franken. "With temperatures falling and heating costs soaring, the LIHEAP program is a last resort for Minnesotans who otherwise can't afford to heat their homes. It's vitally important that Congress make these funds available."

The letter was addressed to Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), Chairman of the Committee on Appropriations, Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), Ranking Republican Member of the Committee on Appropriations, and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies. It was signed by a bipartisan group of 42 senators. The letter can be viewed here.

November 22, 2010

The Honorable Daniel Inouye
Chairman
Committee on Appropriations
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable Thad Cochran
Ranking Member
Committee on Appropriations
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable Tom Harkin
Chairman
Committee on Appropriations
Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Chairman Inouye, Ranking Member Cochran, and Chairman Harkin:

We write to thank you for your consistent support of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and to request that you maintain level funding for the program.

As you know, on October 28th, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released block grant assistance to states under the Continuing Resolution (CR), which funds the federal government at Fiscal Year 2010 levels through December 3rd. Although the CR funded LIHEAP at last year's level of $5.1 billion, due to the differences in discretionary spending levels reported in the House and Senate, HHS provided grants to states based upon the lower reported value. The results have been devastating for our states during a period when we are entering the coldest months of the year and facing increased heating bills, in particular for homes heated with heating oil, which face a 12 percent increase in costs, as forecasted by the the Energy Informational Administration. Consequently, unless Congress maintains fiscal year 2010 funding levels for this critical program, the average LIHEAP block grant to states will be cut by 40 percent.

This is a challenging time for low-income Americans. With the unemployment rate at 9.6% nationwide and 42.4 million people receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) support in August, another record and a 50% increase iver 2008, manipulating full funding for LIHEAP is essential. The U.S. Census recently reported that 43.6 million people were counted as poor in the United States, or one in seven Americans, the largest number in the measure's 50-year recorded history.

Given the unique structure of the programs, unless we finalize funding for the remained of Fiscal Year 2011 now, the millions of Americans who need help paying their energy bills this winter could see no additional assistance. As such, under any appropriations bill that Congress considers prior to the expiration of the CR, we would request that you extend LIHEAP's funding through September 30th, 2011, at last year's funding levels. This would provide stability to the program and allow HHS to allocate LIHEAP funds in a timely manner to provide vital heating assistance this winter.

Again, we want to thank you for your commitment to helping low-income families cope during this tough economic climate, and look forward to working together in a fiscally responsible manner to address this serious issue.

Sincerely

Jack Reed
Olympia J. Snowe
Sherrod Brown
Susan M. Collins
Patrick J. Leahy
Christopher S. Bond
Barbara A. Mikulski
Richard G. Lugar
Herb Kohl
Scott P. Brown
Patty Murray
Frank R. Lautenberg
Tim Johnson
Mary L. Landrieu
Christopher J. Dodd
Bernard Sanders
Jeanne Shaheen
Charles E. Schumer
Joseph L. Lieberman
Russell D. Feingold
John F. Kerry
Jeff Bingaman
Carl Levin
Kirsten E. Gillibrand
Sheldon Whitehouse
Roland W. Burris
Ron Wyden
Claire McCaskill
Robert P. Casey, Jr.
Robert Menendez
Maria Cantwell
Al Franken
Michael F. Bennet
Debbie Stabenow
Amy Klobuchar
Mark Begich
John D. Rockefeller IV
Benjamin L. Cardin
Jim Webb
Jon Tester
Jeff Merkley
Blanche L. Lincoln
Lisa Murkowski
Tom Udall


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