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Letter to Barack Obama, President of the United States - Protect Vital Home Energy Funding

Lawmakers call on President to prioritize funding in 2015 budget at $4.7b for LIHEAP program

Today, Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) joined a bipartisan group of 39 Senators in a letter to President Barack Obama calling him to fund the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) at no less than $4.7 billion in his 2015 budget proposal. The LIHEAP helps low-income households, veterans, and seniors pay their energy bills during the cold winter months. Rising energy prices and the recovering economy have forced record numbers of Americans to apply for home heating assistance in recent years, and the number of households eligible for the program continues to significantly exceed those able to receive assistance. The average LIHEAP grant is estimated to cover less than half of the average home heating costs for a household this winter, meaning that many low-income families and seniors will have fewer resources available to meet other basic needs. In Massachusetts roughly 200,000 families received heating assistance from LIHEAP in FY2012.

"Massachusetts residents should not have to make heat-or-eat decisions during the cold winter months," said Senator Markey. "We need to restore LIHEAP funding to levels before mindless sequestration cuts took effect and ensure funding stability as households continue to struggle to make ends meet. I will continue to fight to ensure that Massachusetts families are not left out in the cold as President Obama and Congress debate funding for home energy assistance next year."

In recent years there have been significant reductions to LIHEAP funding. Recipients have seen their average LIHEAP grant reduced by more than $100 since 2010, from $520 in FY 2010 to $406 in FY 2013. Meanwhile, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects that average winter home heating costs for families in the Northeast will rise 17 percent this winter for homes using natural gas, 9 percent for propane, 5 percent for electricity and be roughly level for heating oil.

The letter was led by Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Susan Collins (R-ME), and also signed by Sens. Sherrod Brown, Lisa Murkowski, Kelly Ayotte, Bernard Sanders, Carl Levin, Patty Murray, Angus S. King, Jr., Robert P. Casey, Jr., Ron Wyden, Sheldon Whitehouse, John D. Rockefeller, Christopher A. Coons, Patrick J. Leahy, Debbie Stabenow, Richard Blumenthal, Kristen E. Gillibrand, Tim Kaine, Christopher Murphy, Jeanne Shaheen, Al Franken, Robert Menendez, Jeff Merkley, Mazie K. Hirono, Amy Klobuchar, Mark L. Pryor, Jon Tester, Tammy Baldwin, Charles E. Schumer, Mary L. Landrieu, Joe Manchin, Richard J. Durbin, Tim Johnson, Elizabeth Warren, Benjamin L. Cardin, Kay R. Hagan and Brian Schatz.

December 19, 2013

President Barack Obama

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President,

We are writing to request that you prioritize the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) in your Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 budget proposal by including no less than $4.7 billion for this program that provides critical support to our most vulnerable citizens.

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. LIHEAP households are among the most vulnerable in the country. According to the National Energy Assistance Director's Association (NEADA), more than 90 percent of LIHEAP recipients have at least one household member who is a child, elderly, or disabled, and 20 percent of households contain at least one veteran. For these households, LIHEAP funding has been a lifeline during challenging economic times. Access to affordable home energy is not a luxury -- it is a matter of health and safety.

We understand the ongoing discretionary budget challenges. However, we are deeply concerned that funding for LIHEAP has declined more than 30 percent in recent years. Moreover, the number of households eligible for assistance continues to exceed available funding. Sequestration has further exacerbated these funding challenges. According to NEADA, the total number of households receiving LIHEAP assistance has declined by 17 percent between FY 2010 and FY 2013, from about 8.1 million to 6.7 million. Nearly 1.5 million vulnerable households have lost access to critical LIHEAP assistance and struggle to pay for the basic necessity of home energy in addition to other essentials like food and medicine.

Funding has declined, yet energy costs have remained high, reducing the purchasing power of LIHEAP assistance. Recipients have seen their average LIHEAP grant reduced by more than $100 since 2010, from $520 in FY 2010 to $406 in FY 2013. Meanwhile, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) projects that average winter home heating costs will rise six percent to $977 per household this winter. The average LIHEAP grant is estimated to cover less than half of the average home heating costs for a household this winter, meaning that many low-income families and seniors will have fewer resources available to meet other basic needs.

As you finalize your FY 2015 budget request, we ask that you take into account the great need for LIHEAP. We urge you to reprioritize this program within your FY 2015 budget and restore funding to this program to a level no less than $4.7 billion.

Thank you for your attention to and consideration of this important request.


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