U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) is working to protect funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), a federal program that provides low-income Granite Staters with heating assistance during winter months. In a letter to Senate leadership, Shaheen partnered with a bipartisan coalition of 34 U.S. Senators to request $3.46 billion in funding in the spending bill Congress is currently considering. Without action, the program could see its funding reduced to $2.82 billion during the upcoming winter months, potentially leaving a countless number of families out in the cold.
"LIHEAP funding has been a lifeline during challenging economic times, helping to ensure that recipients do not have to choose between paying their energy bills and paying for other necessities like food and medicine," Shaheen said in the joint letter.
"With the Energy Information Administration projecting that household expenditures this winter for heating oil and natural gas will increase by 17 percent and eight percent, respectively, it is essential to ensure that states will receive the funds necessary to provide assistance to Americans in need," the group added.
In recent years, the struggling U.S. economy and high energy prices have caused record numbers of Americans to apply for home heating assistance. Currently, however, the number of households eligible for LIHEAP continues to surpass those able to receive assistance. Shaheen has been a strong supporter of the program and has supported maintaining robust funding levels for LIHEAP in the past.
The full text of the letter is included below:
Dear Majority Leader Reid, Minority Leader McConnell, Chairwoman Mikulski, and Vice Chairman Shelby:
We write regarding funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). We appreciate your past support of this critical program and respectfully request that you again provide full-year funding for LIHEAP at no less than the fiscal year 2012 level in any upcoming continuing resolution.
LIHEAP is the primary federal program that assists low-income households and seniors with their energy bills, providing vital assistance during both the cold winter and hot summer months. According to the National Energy Assistance Directors Association (NEADA), more than 90 percent of LIHEAP recipients have at least one elderly household member, disabled household member, or child in their homes. For these households, access to affordable home energy is a matter of health and safety. LIHEAP funding has been a lifeline during challenging economic times, helping to ensure that recipients do not have to choose between paying their energy bills and paying for other necessities like food and medicine.
Unfortunately, the number of households eligible for the program continues to surpass those able to receive assistance. Funding for LIHEAP has declined 32 percent in recent years to $3.47 billion in fiscal year 2013. This has led to a reduction in the average grant award from $417 to $308 since 2009 and decreased the purchasing power of the grant for low-income households. With the Energy Information Administration projecting that household expenditures this winter for heating oil and natural gas will increase by 17 percent and eight percent, respectively, it is essential to ensure that states will receive the funds necessary to provide assistance to Americans in need.
In order to prevent added uncertainty and a decrease in the amount of funding available for grant awards compared to last year, we ask that you include language in the continuing resolution specifically directing the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to release the full amount of each state's LIHEAP allocation at the fiscal year 2012 level. This would follow past precedent. The fiscal year 2013 Continuing Appropriations Act enacted in March extended fiscal year 2012 funding through September 30th and directed HHS to distribute funds under the same formula. We believe that the continued economic challenges, seasonality of the LIHEAP program, and anticipated length of the upcoming continuing resolution necessitates this specific stipulation for LIHEAP once again.
Thank you for your consideration of this request, and we look forward to working with you on this important matter.