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Kennedy: Skyrocketing Energy Costs are American Priority

Location: Boston, MA


BOSTON, MA- Senator Edward M. Kennedy and Mayor Thomas M. Menino today touted efforts to bring relief to families and individuals faced with the skyrocketing costs of home heating energy. Senator Kennedy and Mayor Menino discussed home heating with residents of Boston at the Curtis Hall Community Center in Jamaica Plain.

According to a report released by the Department of Energy (DOE) Energy Information Agency this morning on average, households heating primarily with natural gas are expected to spend about $350 (48 percent) more this winter in fuel expenditures. Households heating primarily with heating oil can expect to pay, on average, $378 (32 percent) more this winter. Thirty-seven percent of New England homeowners rely on natural gas to heat their homes. Senator Kennedy said, "We shouldn't have to wait for a crisis until there is action by this Administration. President Bush has put the wrong priorities first time and time again. Instead of working to lower high heating bills for low-income Americans he increased profits for his oil executive friends. The American people should be put first." The impact of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita strained already tight oil and natural gas markets.

Senator Kennedy discussed his efforts in the U.S. Senate to push for $3.1 billion in federal funding for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) during this time of increased financial strain on people who need to heat their homes this winter. "We know that America can do better and that Congress needs to stand up for the millions of Americans struggling to make ends meet. LIHEAP provides a critical service to desperate families who have nowhere else to turn for basic energy help, and LIHEAP is indispensable in filling that need," said Senator Kennedy.

Mayor Menino discussed his "Heat Works" program that provides home heating system repair and replacement services to low-income senior homeowners.

"With winter fast approaching, the soaring cost of fuel is a major concern for both renters and homeowners. The elderly and people of low-income are especially at-risk of being unable to pay for heat. I'm proud that, once again, the City is doing its part by offering assistance through the Heat Works program," Mayor Thomas M. Menino said. "I want to thank Senator Kennedy for joining me here today. A dedicated public servant, Senator Kennedy has spent his career fighting on behalf of the poor and working families."

At the federal level, last week Senator Kennedy and Senator Kerry introduced an amendment to increase emergency funds for LIHEAP through the Department of Defense appropriations bill. The Republican leadership in Congress blocked this legislation with a procedural vote, but Senator Kennedy will push to include it in the upcoming Katrina supplemental appropriations bill.

Statement by Senator Edward M. Kennedy on the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program October 12, 2005

It's an honor to be here today with Mayor Menino at the Curtis Hall Community Center.

With temperatures dropping, there are few more important duties than keeping our citizens safe and warm for the winter. Rising fuel prices give added urgency to our efforts to lend a hand to those who can't afford their heating bills.

Mayor Menino is a leader in making sure our citizens are not left in the cold. The mayor's Heat Works program begun last year has been a lifesaver for so many seniors in our city with broken heating systems.

The Energy Information Administration is expected to release a report later today illustrating the soaring home heating costs. 37 percent of New England homes heat with natural gas and their bills are expected to increase by 50 percent this winter. Heating oil prices are also expected to increase. The forecast for a cold winter and high fuel costs means that the elderly, the disabled, and many others will be forced to make painful choices between heating their homes and paying for food, healthcare, and rent -- unless we act and act now. Instead of working to lower high heating bills for low-income Americans President Bush has increased profits for his oil executive friends. America can do better.

That's why I'm joining the mayor not only in supporting his program, but also in fighting for additional federal low income heating assistance for Massachusetts.

The LIHEAP program has not been given the resources to meet today's responsibilities. In fact, its funding level is almost the same today as when it was created in 1981, while heating oil prices have gone up 265 percent over that period.

In Massachusetts, LIHEAP serves 130,000 households—including 15,000 households in Boston. This is only 22 percent of the eligible recipients. And applications for fuel assistance have been increasing. 8,000 of the 12,000 fuel assistance applications sent out have already been returned—that's 1,500 more than this time last year.

With current funding, even those receiving LIHEAP funds won't receive enough money to last the entire winter.

Here in Massachusetts, one 71-year-old woman lives alone and keeps her thermostat set at 60 degrees to save money. She hopes the federal government will come through with more LIHEAP money before she runs out of ways to pay her heating bill. She says, "I turn down the thermostat as low as I can and sometimes I turn it off and put on extra sweaters. I don't know how much longer I can keep doing this."

In addition, many families in Massachusetts will struggle just to get their heat turned back on for the winter because they still owe money from last winter's bills.

There's a single mother who lives with her baby daughter. She is a nurse, but lost her job last August and has been working temporary jobs ever since. Her salary doesn't cover her bills, and her electricity has been cut off. She worries about how she'll pay off her bill before the winter.

While people are suffering, Republicans in Congress are trying to cut the LIHEAP program. Their plan would mean a 70 percent cut for Boston. If they get their way, more than 10,000 of the 15,000 LIHEAP families in Boston will lose their federal heating assistance.

Earlier this week, President Bush's energy secretary was asked about LIHEAP funding. He replied, "At least at this point in time, that's not on the agenda."

We're here today to say it may not be on their agenda, but it's on ours. That's why Senator Kerry and I are fighting so hard not only to block the cuts, but to increase LIHEAP funding. Our amendment didn't quite make it into law when we offered it last week, but we'll be back and back and back until the people of Massachusetts are fully protected this winter.

The needs of the poor must not be ignored. Until every senior citizen has a warm place to come home to every day, and every child has a warm bed to sleep in every night, our job is not done.

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