Governor Paul LePage joined with 13 other Governors across the country to submit a letter requesting Congress fully fund the federal government's Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) this winter. In a letter written to the leadership of the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations, the Governors requested that the LIHEAP program be funded at last year's levels in any funding agreements for FFY 2013. This includes a potential six-month continuing resolution to fund the federal government through March 2013.
"LIHEAP is vital to helping Mainers make it through the winter. Our elderly population is especially susceptible to the cold weather, and we need to make sure they are well taken care of," said Governor LePage. "Many Mainers rely on this assistance and I hope Washington acts quickly to allocate the funds in full and in a timely manner."
State allotments for LIHEAP funds are determined by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and dispersed by the Maine State Housing Authority through a partnership with local Community Action Agencies. Last year, HHS allotted Maine roughly $38.6 million in total LIHEAP funds, compared to $56.5 million the prior year. In their letter, the Governors request that Congress allocates the full-year funding of $3.47 billion to the program when they convene to discuss the potential continuing resolution.
"Maine winters are notoriously harsh. With energy prices on the rise and experts predicting a particularly cold winter this year, it is imperative that we do all we can to keep Mainers warm," said Ken Fletcher, the Director of the Governor's Energy Office. "We need to find out how much we will receive in LIHEAP funds as soon as possible, so that we may plan accordingly for the upcoming winter months."
Because many states start releasing LIHEAP funds to recipients as early as November, there is a potential for these funds to run out before the remainder of the LIHEAP money may be released in March 2013. The letter also requested that Congress provide for contingency funding as well, as has been the practice in the past, to protect against any potential energy crises.
According to MaineHousing, approximately 54,000 households received LIHEAP benefits last year, and the average benefit was $483. Fifty-three percent of the households served included low-income seniors or persons who are disabled. MaineHousing anticipates that with increasing energy prices and a forecasted colder winter, enrollment in the LIHEAP program may be even greater than last year.