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WASHINGTON, DC -- With the federal government on the verge of a potential shutdown, a bipartisan group of 34 U.S. Senators, led by Jack Reed (D-RI) and Susan Collins (R-ME), are working to ensure that low-income Americans who need heating assistance are not left out in the cold. As Congress considers a short-term spending plan, Reed and Collins and their colleagues are seeking to ensure it restores vital federal heating aid funds.

The Senators sent a bipartisan letter urging a level of $3.46 billion for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) in the continuing resolution (CR) to fund the government past September 30, 2013. Without the Reed-Collins LIHEAP fix, the program could be reduced to as little as $2.82 billion during the cold winter months ahead.

The Senators wrote: "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."

In recent years, the struggling U.S. economy and still high energy prices have caused record numbers of Americans to apply for home heating assistance and the number of households eligible for the program continues to surpass those able to receive assistance.

"LIHEAP is a lifeline for nearly 32,000 Rhode Islanders and provides critical assistance to families and seniors struggling with high energy prices and a challenging economy. We need to do everything we can to ensure that families, especially those with children and elderly residents, can stay safe and warm this winter," said Senator Reed.

"The LIHEAP program is one of our most effective tools to help senior citizens and less-fortunate households keep warm during the winter," said Senator Collins. "As energy costs have increased, LIHEAP funding has been an important lifeline that helps prevent people from having to choose between heating their home, paying their bills, or going without food or medicine."

Over the years, President Obama has proposed significant reductions to LIHEAP. This year, the President's budget requested $2.97 billion for LIHEAP. This level of funding would cause Rhode Island to drop from about $23.9 million in LIHEAP funding to around $20.7 million and Maine's LIHEAP aid would be reduced from $38.8 million to about $31.2 million.

In August, Reed and Collins, who both serve on the Appropriations Committee, successfully increased LIHEAP funding in the FY 2014 Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations bill to a total of $3.61 billion.

Eligibility for LIHEAP is based on income, family size, and the availability of resources.

Text of the letter follows:

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.

Reed

Collins

Brown

Ayotte

Baldwin

Blumenthal

Cardin

Casey

Franken

Gillibrand

Hagan

Johnson

Kaine

King

Klobuchar

Landrieu

Leahy

Levin

Manchin

Markey

Menendez

Merkley

Murkowski

Murphy

Rockefeller

Sanders

Schatz

Schumer

Shaheen

Stabenow

Tester

Warren

Whitehouse

Wyden