Gov. Peter Shumlin and legislative leaders announced today that the state would add $6.1 million to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, known as LIHEAP, to help ensure Vermonters can afford to heat their homes and stay warm this winter.
Despite the heavy lifting of Vermont's Congressional delegation, the federal contribution to LIHEAP will be about $8 million less than last year. Vermont received $27.6 million in fuel assistance from the federal government for heating assistance last year, providing an average benefit of $866. This year Vermont expects to receive $19.5 million, providing an average benefit amount of $750, the Governor said.
"We should not let vulnerable Vermonters freeze in their homes this winter season," Gov. Shumlin said. "The state will provide the additional funding to help ensure every Vermonter stays warm. In addition, we will review the program to find ways of ensuring that heating assistance is sustainable in future years."
The Governor, Lieutenant Governor and legislative leaders made decision to provide a projected 8 percent increase in the average fuel assistance benefit after Congress finalized this winter's LIHEAP numbers. That 8 percent figure was selected following a government report that projects home heating expenditures will increase by that amount this heating season.
"We are disappointed that despite the good efforts of our Congressional delegation, Congress failed to take appropriate action to fully fund this program in a time when fuel costs are rising rapidly," said Speaker Shap Smith. "The Legislature will step up to ensure that Vermont families and the elderly are not left out in the cold this winter."
"It's unfortunate that certain members of Congress believe that tax breaks for the wealthiest are more important than keeping Americans warm this year," said President Pro Tem John Campbell.
"The actions announced by the Governor today will ensure that needy older Vermonters will receive the help they need to remain warm this winter," said Ken Gordon, with AARP Vermont / VT Association of Area Agencies on Aging. "Many Vermont seniors faced having to choose between paying for medicine, food and heat this winter. These additional funds will make a critical difference to those individuals and families who rely upon this program to survive our long and cold winter months."
The state's $6.1 million will be added to the federal $19.5 million and other available funds, increasing the average annual benefit per household to about $935. Of the state's share, $5.1 million will come from funds the Legislature set aside in anticipation of federal cuts, and $1 million from a projected year-end carry-forward in the non-ARRA funded weatherization program.
Gov. Shumlin said Vermont taxpayers cannot be expected to cover all of the federal cutbacks passed by Congress, "So we must take a hard look at what can be done to make sure our fuel assistance program is sustainable."
He directed the Commissioner of Department of Children and Families and the fuel assistance office to do a rapid and thorough study of steps Vermont can take to enhance the sustainability of a fuel assistance program (including eligibility, how the state pays dealers, other possible sources of revenue, etc.) and report the possibilities to the Administration and the Legislature by the end of the 2012 legislative session.