Rep. Frank Lucas (R- OK), Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), Rep. Steve King (R-IA) and Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA) sent a letter this week to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius requesting information on the agency's efforts to oversee states administering the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which is intended to provide benefits to those Americans most in need of energy assistance.
The committee leaders highlight the continued manipulation by some states of the relationship between LIHEAP and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Sixteen states and the District of Columbia were allowing their LIHEAP program to make small nominal payments to households without actual utility expenses with the goal of artificially inflating benefit levels for certain SNAP households. Congress responded by including a statutory change in the Farm Bill that requires a LIHEAP payment be at least $20 before the household would qualify for a standard deduction when calculating benefits under SNAP. However, a handful of states have announced plans to continue diverting LIHEAP dollars away from those in need of energy assistance for the sole purpose of maintaining higher SNAP benefit levels. To date, the committees are not aware of any effort by HHS to end this practice, which is a clear attempt to circumvent congressional efforts to ensure LIHEAP funds reach those families, seniors, and households with the greatest need for support in paying their energy bills.
"Secretary Sebelius must hold states accountable when they are administering federal programs and spending federal dollars. We will continue our oversight efforts of both the U.S. Department of Agriculture and HHS to ensure that LIHEAP and SNAP are carried out as Congress intended when it wrote the law. Both agencies must ensure that their respective programs are serving their intended recipients according to the law or Congress will be forced to legislate," said Rep. Frank D. Lucas, Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.
"LIHEAP is a very important program to help low-income households pay their energy bills," said Rep. Fred Upton, Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. "We need to make certain that LIHEAP funds aren't being abused or diverted to other purposes."