Letter to President Obama - Maine Congressional Delegation Urges President to Release Withheld LIHEAP Funds

Letter

By:  Chellie Pingree Susan Collins Angus King, Jr. Mike Michaud
Date: Feb. 17, 2013
Location: Washington, DC

Release of Reserved Funds Would Help Low-Income Maine Families to Heat Homes

The Maine Congressional delegation today wrote a letter to President Barack Obama urging him to direct the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to release any available overestimated funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) that is currently being withheld. In November, Maine received $34.9 million in LIHEAP funding, which is ninety percent of Maine's total $38.5 million allocation. The reserved ten percent, or $4.5 million, has been withheld by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to address the potential impact of sequestration. New information indicates that withholding ten percent is a higher than necessary estimate and that an additional one or two percent of those funds could be released to Maine by HHS while still allowing the Department to meet its obligation in the case of sequestration. An additional one percent is equivalent to approximately $350,000 of assistance.

The text of the letter is below.

February 17, 2013

Dear Mr. President,

We recognize the serious budget challenges facing the nation, which are only exacerbated by the looming threat of sequestration. Given this difficult situation, we remain committed to working with you and our colleagues in Congress to avoid across-the-board cuts that would devastate many critical programs and services.

As we deliberate and work hard to address the federal government's budget issues, people in cold weather states are facing a financial crisis of their own: trying to keep their families warm. For many decades the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) has provided essential funds for the millions of low income families and elderly people who struggle each winter. This year is particularly difficult as families are facing both high fuel prices and record breaking cold.

We applaud the action taken in November by Health and Human Services (HHS), distributing to states 90 percent of the available LIHEAP funding; this allowed essential funding to flow to our most vulnerable families and senior at the beginning of the heating season.

It is our understanding that HHS is withholding 10 percent of the funds to ensure that, in the worst case scenario, the Department would be able to meet the obligations of sequestration. Based on the latest information, however, we understand that this may be a high estimate for what is needed. We are requesting that you immediately release any available LIHEAP funding, in order to allow states to distribute this money during the coldest part of the winter heating season.

Withholding more funds than are absolutely necessary could actually cost lives.

We thank you for your consideration and look forward to working with you to address this important priority.