Representatives Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), James P. McGovern (D-Mass.), John B. Larson (D-Conn.), and Peter Welch (D-Vt.) sent a letter to House leadership urging them to fund the Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) at least at the FY2011 level of $4.7 billion. With record numbers of American families turning to LIHEAP for the third year in a row, maintaining funding at current levels will mean families will not have to chose between heating their homes and food, medications or other basic needs. The funding levels set forth in the draft House appropriations bill would result in a reduction in LIHEAP funds of nearly $60 million for Massachusetts from last winter. Vermont would lose more than 30 percent of its LIHEAP funds and Connecticut would see a cut of more than 20 percent.
"Without home heating support, Massachusetts residents literally would be left out in the cold," said Rep. Markey. "There are difficult budget decisions to be made as we work to reduce the deficit, but American families shouldn't have to decide between heating and eating this winter. With the costs of home heating fuel rising across the board, we should not subject this critical program to draconian cuts."
"The LIHEAP program is absolutely essential to keeping thousands of our most vulnerable neighbors warm in the winter," said Rep. McGovern. "To cut LIHEAP funds during these difficult economic times would force too many people to choose between rent, food, medicine and heat. That would be unacceptable, and I urge the House leadership to fund LIHEAP at appropriate levels."
"Already, winter has hit Connecticut and the northeast leaving many people with the anxiety of how to pay for an extra long season of keeping their families warm," said Rep. Larson. "For years, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) has played a major role in ensuring that low-income families are able to meet their home energy needs, and this year should be no different. As the expiration of funding for the government fast approaches, I urge my colleagues on the appropriations committee to fund LIHEAP at the very least, last year's funding levels and make sure everyone who needs energy assistance has it."
"Even in good economic times, LIHEAP is a critical lifeline for countless Vermonters," said Rep. Welch. "Now, with wages stagnant, a tough economy, rising fuel prices and Vermonters struggling to recover from Tropical Storm Irene, it is even more critical. Winter is upon us in the northeast and we need to get the money to those who need it now."
The Department of Energy is reporting an increase in the price for most heating fuels this winter, with home heating oil expected to reach record highs across America this winter. The National Energy Assistance Directors' Association anticipates 9.4 million households will seek assistance with their energy costs through the LIHEAP program this winter, up from 8.9 million last year. The funding level of $3.4 billion for LIHEAP in the draft House Labor HHS appropriations bill for the remainder of FY2012 would allow assistance for only seven million households.
Last month, Reps. Markey, LaTourette, McGovern, Larson and Welch sent a letter from a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers calling on HHS to immediately release as much LIHEAP funding as possible under the current continuing resolution that expires November 18, 2011.
Dear Speaker Boehner, Leader Pelosi, Chairman Rogers and Ranking Member Dicks:
The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) provides a vital safety net for our nation's low-income households. As you know, the current Continuing Resolution expires on November 18, 2011. As you work to develop an omnibus appropriations bill for FY2012, we urge you to fund LIHEAP at least at the FY2011 levels of $4.7 billion.
As a result of the economic downturn and continued high and rising energy prices, record numbers of families are turning to LIHEAP for assistance for the third year in a row. According to3 the National Energy Assistance Director's Association (NEADA), roughly 8.9 million families nationwide received LIHEAP heating assistance last winter, an increase of 16 percent from two years ago. But even at those levels, only roughly 20 percent of the families eligible for assistance received LIHEAP aid. Reducing funding for LIHEAP to under $3.4 billion, as the House Appropriations Committee's draft Labor, Health and Human Services appropriations bill would do, would mean that roughly 2 million families nationwide would no longer be able to receive help from this vital program.
For instance, at the funding levels set forth in the draft House appropriations bill, it would mean a reduction in LIHEAP funds of nearly $180 million for New York, nearly $100 million for Pennsylvania, and nearly $60 million for Massachusetts from last winter. Vermont would lose more than 30 percent of its LIHEAP funds and Connecticut would see a cut of more than 20 percent. This funding level would mean that states like Minnesota and Wisconsin would see their LIHEAP funds cut by nearly half. These significant reductions could have tremendous impacts for low-income families in these states.
According to a survey conducted by the National Energy Assistance Director's Association, nearly one third of families receiving LIHEAP assistance reported that they went without food during the last five years as a result of high home energy costs. Over 40 percent of families reported sacrificing medical care and 25 percent reported that someone in the home became sick because the home was too cold. Energy is a basic need and without LIHEAP assistance, low income families, senior citizens and the disabled face difficult choices between paying their home energy bills or affording other basic necessities such as prescription drugs or food.
Cutting funding for LIHEAP so dramatically would have a devastating impact on millions of American families already suffering from the economic downturn. We must ensure that the poorest and most vulnerable families can continue to receive help. We therefore urge you to fund this critical program at least at the FY2011 level in FY2012.
Thank you for your continued support of the LIHEAP program and your consideration of this request.
Chris Van Hollen
Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan
Ben Ray Lujan