September 10, 2004
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear President Bush:
As the Administration works to compile an urgently needed second supplemental funding request to meet the emergency needs of the millions of Americans endangered by Hurricanes Charley and Frances, we urge you to also include $600 million in emergency Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) funds to avoid a looming, but preventable, crisis for millions of additional Americans caused by the soaring cost and diminishing affordability of home heating fuel as winter approaches.
Hurricanes Charley and Frances upset the lives of millions, displacing families from their homes and inflicting severe economic damage. Without question, the people of Florida and the Gulf region deserve our support and the nation, and Congress, stand ready to help. Yet we also have a responsibility to address the imminent emergency confronting millions of Americans in cold weather states. The current rise in energy prices coupled with energy debt remaining from last winter are leading to increased disconnections and arrears among consumers as the winter heating season begins - threatening the well-being of families and seniors. This situation warrants the provision of emergency LIHEAP funding in the supplemental request, as it may be our last opportunity to act before the winter cold sets in.
Americans are facing record prices for oil, natural gas and propane. Northeast and Midwest states need additional funding immediately to help low-income families and seniors restore disconnected utility service before the start of the winter heating season and to ensure affordable heat for their homes. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that 25,000 customers in the We Energies service area are currently disconnected and that number is expected to growth to 70,000 by the end of the year. In Pennsylvania, customer utility debt rose 5 percent in the first 6 months of 2004 to a record $564 million. In Iowa, the Energy Office is reporting that as of July 2004, 161,390 accounts are past due with 46,599 accounts issued disconnection notices. In Maine, 45,700 applications were received for assistance last year, but the State expects at least 60,000 requests for this coming winter, so last year's assistance of $400 per household will be hard to meet as the costs of heating oil are predicted to go up to $2 per gallon for this coming winter. The State is bracing for potentially crisis conditions caused by the lack of affordable heating sources, particularly for seniors and the disabled.
Additionally, on August 20th, the Des Moines Register reported on a house fire that killed a 3-year old girl. While the fire is under investigation, the family was using candles to provide light because their electricity had been turned off. This tragedy illustrates the dangerous measures that low-income households in states like Pennsylvania, Iowa, Maine, Ohio and Wisconsin undertake to keep the lights on or to stay warm. When home energy bills are unaffordable in winter, low-income households rely on alternative heating sources such as ovens or space heaters. The National Fire Protection Association reports that house fires show a sharp increase in the cold-weather months. Indeed, half of the home heating fires and three-fourths of the home heating fires deaths occur in the winter months.
Residents in Northeast and Midwest states face some of the Nation's highest energy burdens and cost-of-living expenses, placing serious financial burdens on low-income households. Almost daily, newspapers are reporting on the impacts of higher energy costs for consumers. The Energy Information Administration is forecasting that heating costs will again increase this winter: heating a home with natural gas will cost an average of $1,049 this winter; heating with oil will cost $1,094; and, heating with propane will cost $1,361. These predicted increases come on top of soaring energy prices over the past several years. Compared to average heating costs from 1998 to 2000, expenditures this winter are expected to be 55 percent higher for natural gas; 45 percent higher for heating oil; and 41 percent higher for propane. Families are facing an unforeseen energy emergency that requires an immediate response.
Residents and business affected by the hurricanes deserve the nation's full support and financial assistance, and we stand ready and willing to do everything we can to help. At the same time, we have a responsibility to prevent so much needless hardship for millions of other Americans by acting to get these LIHEAP emergency funds before we have another full-blown crisis on our hands. Thank you for your serious consideration of our request.
Senators Snowe, Kennedy, Reed, Collins, Kohl