In an effort to help millions of Americans who are struggling with their energy bills as winter approaches, a bipartisan group of 40 U.S. Senators, led by Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME), are calling on the Obama Administration to restore vital federal heating aid funds.
Today, the Senators sent a bipartisan letter to President Barack Obama urging him to restore Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) to at least the FY 2011 level of $4.7 billion. The struggling U.S. economy and still high energy prices have caused record numbers of Americans to apply for home heating assistance.
"LIHEAP is an efficient, cost-effective program that helps nearly 32,000 Rhode Island households stay safe and warm during the cold winter months. I am pleased we were able to get bipartisan support for the effort to restore this critical funding. Congress must do everything it can to ensure that families in need do not get left out in the cold this winter," said Reed.
"I have fought tooth and nail for LIHEAP funding since my very first days in the U.S. House in 1979, and increasing assistance for this vital program is no less urgent now than it was three decades ago. LIHEAP has faced draconian funding cuts far too often, which impose unconscionable burdens on Maine's most vulnerable as they are confronted with the impossible choice between heating their homes or paying for other necessities, like prescription drugs. I have personally heard the stories and witnessed the serious challenges that a Maine winter presents to the thousands of our households receiving this aid, and the simple truth is we must do more to help. I call on the President to do what is right and make LIHEAP a priority in the budget next year. We must ensure Mainers can stay warm during our harsh winter months," said Senator Snowe.
So far this year, Rhode Island has received over $22.8 million and Maine over $34.9 million in federal funds through the LIHEAP program. In September, Reed and Snowe secured language in the FY 2013 continuing resolution to fund LIHEAP at the FY 2012 level of $3.47 billion nationally through March 27, 2013. Without the language, the program could have been reduced to as little as $2.82 billion during the winter months.
In November, the U.S. Energy Information Administration released their Winter Fuels Outlook report which stated that the average expenditures for households that heat with heating oil are forecast to be higher than any previous winter on record.
Eligibility for LIHEAP is based on income, family size, and the availability of resources.
Text of the letter follows:
Dear Mr. President:
We are writing to request that you prioritize the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) in yow- Fiscal Year 2014 (FY14) budget proposal by including no less than $4.7 billion for this critical support for our least fortunate.
LIHEAP is the main 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. Energy costs are challenging for the budgets of American households. In fact, according to a recent Energy Information and Administration (EIA) report, household expenditures this winter for heating oil and natural gas are projected to increase by 19 percent and 15 percent respectively. While this constrains middle-income households, it disproportionately affects low-income households, many of which are seniors and on fixed-incomes. Moreover, with Social Security benefits increasing by only 1.7 percent this year, or an average of $19 per month, many elderly Americans will be facing difficult choices to simply provide a basic level of comfort in their home.
As supporters of the LIHEAP program we are very cognizant of the challenges that our discretionary budget faces in FY14. However, we are deeply concerned that funding for the program has declined 32 percent in recent years to $3.47 billion last year at the same time the number of households eligible for the program continues to exceed those receiving assistance. As a result, we urge you to reprioritize this program within your FY14 budget and restore funding to this indispensable program to a level of $4.7 billion.
We thank you for your consideration and look forward to working with you to address this important priority.