Democratic News

Feb 01 2005

Senators Seek Release of Emergency LIHEAP Funding

Administration Urged To Help Those Hit Hardest by Soaring Home Energy Costs

Sen. Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, top Democrat on the Senate Energy Committee, has added his support to the bipartisan efforts of senators who today will call on the Bush Administration to release the final $100 million in emergency funding for the program that helps needy families, senior citizens and others pay their home utility bills. With demand for assistance continuing to grow due to high energy costs, cold weather and energy debt from last winter, the senators say that funds for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, known as LIHEAP, also need to be boosted. In December, Congress appropriated $300 million in emergency funding for the program. So far, the Administration has released $200 million – including $100 million released last night on the eve of a news conference by the National Fuel Funds Network during their "Washington Action Day for LIHEAP." "LIHEAP is a safety net for millions of Americans who struggle to pay to heat and cool their homes,” Bingaman said. “For the poorest of those consumers, increases in home utility bills can be catastrophic. Unfortunately, the amount of LIHEAP money that has been appropriated in the past is only enough to help about 15 percent, or 4 million of the 30 million households eligible for assistance." Bingaman noted that without adjusting for inflation, LIHEAP funding has remained flat for 20+ years. Yet, in recent years, home electricity and natural gas costs have risen dramatically. Because LIHEAP is being stretched beyond its capacity to meet these increases, Bingaman will continue to push for enlarging the LIHEAP budget to at least $3 billion – a major increase over the current authorization level of $2 billion. Last week, Bingaman joined 49 other senators in a letter to President Bush asking him to release the remaining emergency LIHEAP funding: The Honorable George W. Bush President of the United States The White House 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, NW Washington, DC 20500 Dear President Bush: We urge you to immediately release the remaining $200 million in emergency Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) funding provided in the fiscal year 2005 Consolidated Appropriations Act. Congress appropriated the LIHEAP emergency funds to help consumers meet the cost of rising energy prices and reduce energy debt remaining from last winter. The high energy burden facing low-income households and the cold weather being experienced throughout the country warrants the immediate release of these funds. Many low-income consumers entered this winter without heat or electricity due to unaffordable energy prices last year, and thousands of these families remain without heat. Emergency funding is needed immediately to help low-income families and seniors restore disconnected utility service. For example, in Pennsylvania, as of December 15, 2004, 4,496 residential households remain without electric service and 10,509 residential households who heat with natural gas are without service The Energy Information Administration’s Short-term Energy Outlook for January forecasts, despite the warmer weather in December, that heating oil expenditures by households are still expected to average 34 percent above last winter’s levels, expenditures for propane-heated households are expected to increase about 20 percent this winter, and expenditures for natural gas-heated households are expected to rise by 10 percent. These increases far outpace the rate of inflation and are placing an overwhelming strain on family budgets. These increases come on top of soaring energy prices over the past several years. Oil prices climbed to over $48 a barrel for the week ending January 14th, the highest since the end of November. Natural gas rose to $6.445 for a million British Thermal Units (BTUs). Rising energy prices disproportionately burden low-income Americans who are also struggling to pay for higher food, housing and health care costs. Based on preliminary applications, requests for energy assistance are expected to exceed five million households this winter, the highest number in the last 10 years. Newspapers throughout the country are reporting on the inability of states to meet rising demands. Without emergency assistance, low-income seniors and families will face impossible choices this winter: whether to heat their homes or to eat; whether to buy prescription drugs or to pay their electricity bill; and, whether to pay their rent or mortgage or to buy home heating oil. Unfortunately, these are the real choices that face low-income families, disabled Americans, and seniors when energy prices are unaffordable. We believe the heating crisis facing low-income Americans warrants the immediate release of emergency LIHEAP assistance. Thank you for your attention to this important request. Sincerely, Susan Collins Mark Pryor Jack Reed Olympia Snowe Edward Kennedy Arlen Specter Tom Harkin Evan Bayh Frank Lautenberg Max Baucus Lincoln Chafee Barbara Mikulski James Jeffords John Kerry Mike DeWine Hillary Rodham Clinton Mark Dayton Jon Corzine Judd Gregg Joseph Biden Richard Lugar Richard Durbin Carl Levin Christopher Dodd Thomas Carper Debbie Stabenow Patty Murray Patrick Leahy Joseph Lieberman Byron Dorgan Ron Wyden Jeff Bingaman Maria Cantwell Charles Schumer Paul Sarbanes John D. Rockefeller Gordon Smith Barack Obama Rick Santorum Herb Kohl Charles E. Grassley Russell Feingold Blanche Lincoln John Sununu Daniel Inouye Tim Johnson George Allen Barbara Boxer Mary Landrieu John Warner

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