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Letter to Majority Leader Reid, Minority Leader McConnell, Chairman Inouye, and Ranking Member Cochran

U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) joined a bipartisan group of 34 colleagues calling on Senate appropriations leaders to fund the Low Income Home Energy Assistance (LIHEAP) program at last year's level, at minimum, in any spending bills moving forward.

"LIHEAP is a crucial program and a lifeline during these tough economic times for thousands of New Hampshire families and seniors living on fixed incomes. We must ensure that no one has to choose between paying for heat, or paying for food and medicine. LIHEAP needs to be fully funded and with winter coming families and states can't wait," Shaheen said.

Congress is currently considering funding for the 2012 fiscal year. The letter asks the appropriations committee to fund LIHEAP at the same level at no less than the Fiscal Year 2011 level.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently announced it would release only $1.7 billion in LIHEAP funds under the temporary spending measure that Congress passed in September, compared to $4.5 billion for all of 2011. Although spending levels for the full fiscal year have not been set, Senator Shaheen and other senators sent a letter urging HHS to release as much funding as possible quickly, so that states can plan effectively and recipients can buy heating oil at the lowest possible price.

LIHEAP is a unique program in that funding must be released before winter or millions of households are at risk of not receiving assistance during the coldest winter months. In the last fiscal year, funding for the federal government was not finalized by Congress until April.

Shaheen said that decision to release only $1.7 billion for the Low Income Home Heating Program (LIHEAP) made no sense given the record price of heating oil and the early arrival of cold, snowy weather in New Hampshire and throughout the Northeast.

New Hampshire is expected to receive $14.7 million from this release of $1.7 billion, less than half of the $34.3 million it got for the winter of 2010-2011, when more than 45,000 households relied on the New Hampshire LIHEAP program for help.

The Energy Information Administration projects that the price of heating oil will be 10 percent higher this winter than last, the highest average winter price ever predicted. The average heating-oil household is predicted to spend $193 more this winter than last.

Shaheen has been an outspoken advocate for LIHEAP and has opposed efforts to cut funding for it. The federal government provided $4.5 billion in LIHEAP assistance nationwide in 2011, down from $5 billion in 2010.

Full text of the letter follows:

November 10, 2011

The Honorable Harry Reid
Majority Leader
United States Senate
S-221 United States Capitol
Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable Mitch McConnell
Minority Leader
United States Senate
S-230 United States Capitol
Washington, DC 20510

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

Dear Majority Leader Reid, Minority Leader McConnell, Chairman Inouye, and Ranking Member Cochran:

We write to urge your support for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and to respectfully request that you recognize the seasonality of the program by providing full-year funding for LIHEAP at no less than the Fiscal Year 2011 level, including the contingency funds to address emergencies, in any appropriations bills moving forward.

As you well know, LIHEAP is the only federal program that helps low-income households and seniors with their energy bills, providing vital assistance during both the cold winter and hot summer months. This funding has been a lifeline during the economic downturn, helping to ensure that people do not have to choose between paying their energy bills and paying for food or medicine. Moreover, the funds provided to LIHEAP generate $1.13 in economic activity for every dollar in benefits paid, according to economists Mark Zandi and Alan S. Blinder.

Low-income households spend a higher proportion of their income on energy, and this is particularly true during times of extreme temperatures and increased energy prices. Indeed, demand for LIHEAP has always been greater than the available funding, and as a result of the economic downturn and the increase in poverty and unemployment, the number of low-income households eligible for LIHEAP in 2012 will be larger than it was in 2008. For example, a household can be eligible for LIHEAP assistance if at least one household member receives Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, and as of July 2011, SNAP participation is over 45 million people, or 60 percent more than in 2008. According to the National Energy Assistance Directors Association, the number of eligible households applying for assistance this year is projected to be a record 9.4 million, or 3.6 million more than in 2008. In addition, the U.S. Census recently reported that 46.2 million people lived in poverty in 2010, an increase of 6.4 million people over 2008 and the largest number in the 52 year history of published poverty estimates.

Despite these facts, the Administration's proposed cut, coupled with uncertainty in the ultimate Fiscal Year 2012 LIHEAP funding level, has resulted in a dramatic reduction of LIHEAP funds available to our states under the current Continuing Resolution (CR) that will significantly undermine our economy and leave millions of households vulnerable. Specifically, the Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) initial release of LIHEAP funds to states on October 28, 2011, was only $1.7 billion, a 62 percent decrease in full-year block grant funding from last year. Further, since the House provided no contingency funds for LIHEAP, there is additional uncertainty in HHS having these emergency funds available to help states address the acute challenges of high unemployment, increased SNAP participation, high energy prices, and unforeseen extreme weather events--all criteria for the release of contingency funds. Given the unique structure of the program, unless Congress directs HHS to provide level funding for the LIHEAP block grants and as well as contingency funds in the next appropriations bill, the program may experience the largest annual decrease on record during the winter months.

As a result, we request that under any appropriations bill that Congress considers prior to the expiration of the CR that you provide funding for LIHEAP, including emergency funds, at no less than the Fiscal Year 2011 level through September 30, 2012, and that you work with us to avoid these catastrophic cuts during the winter season. This has a similar precedent as last year, thanks to your help, one of the continuing resolutions for Fiscal Year 2011 included language that required HHS to distribute LIHEAP funding at last year's levels. We believe that the continuing economic climate along with the rise in how much households will pay to keep warm this winter, as much as 8 percent more than last year, requires this stipulation again.

Thank you for your consideration of this request, and we look forward to working with you on this important matter.

Sincerely,

Sens. Reed, Snowe, Leahy, Sanders, Shaheen, Blumenthal, Lieberman, Sherrod Brown, Kerry, Levin, Tester, Bingaman, Franken, Gillibrand, Rockefeller, Begich, Wyden, Scott Brown, Menendez, Merkley, Whitehouse, Ayotte, Kohl, Schumer, Lautenberg, Lugar, Casey, Tim Johnson, Klobuchar, Coons, Stabenow, Collins, Mikulski, Murkowski


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