Weekly Column

Recent Weekly Columns

As winter turns to spring here in Maine, we look forward to warmer days and nights.  This will be welcome news to those of us who heat our homes with heating oil.  Since 2004, heating oil has increased from an average price of $1.93/gallon to the current level of more than $3.85 per gallon.

For more than 25 years, one of our most effective tools to help less-fortunate households and senior citizens keep warm during the winter has been the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP.  Last year, LIHEAP assisted some 8 million households nationwide; nearly 50,000 were in Maine.  This federal block grant program to the states has proven itself to be both well run and invaluable.  Moreover, the funds invested in LIHEAP help stimulate the economy, generating $1.13 in economic activity for every dollar in benefits paid, according to a recent economic analysis.

It is critical that Congress confront challenging fiscal decisions, and we need to work together to address our country’s deficit in a manner that will promote job growth and economic recovery.  However, as our country has struggled with a weak economy and a high jobless rate, more and more people live in poverty.  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.

The President originally proposed to cut the level of LIHEAP funding in half in Fiscal Year 2012.  Despite bipartisan efforts to restore much of the funding, the overall level was eventually cut by 25 percent.  As a result, the average amount paid to recipients was reduced, presenting a real challenge for low-income households and seniors in Maine. 

In an effort to prevent this from happening again, I recently joined several of my colleagues urging the Senate Appropriations Committee to fund LIHEAP for Fiscal Year 2013 at no less than the Fiscal Year 2011 level of $4.7 billion.  In addition, I am urging support for key energy efficiency and clean energy programs, such as the Weatherization Assistance Program, that not only help create jobs, but also save money through reduced energy consumption in homes, delivering substantial and long-term savings on heating and cooling bills.  The Weatherization Assistance Program helps low-income families, seniors, and individuals with disabilities improve the energy efficiency of their homes, freeing up finite resources for other essentials like food and medicine.  Weatherization saves an average $437 in annual utility bill costs, and those savings can stay within the local economy and have a large “multiplier effect,” spurring further job growth and economic development.  A study by Oak Ridge National Laboratory found that for every $1 invested in the program, weatherization returns $2.51 in benefits to the household and society.  Providing funding for this program will help ensure that states have the resources to reduce the increasing burden of high energy prices on low-income families.

Severe cuts to the LIHEAP program would result in harmful consequences for our most vulnerable families and senior citizens.  Responsible investments in this program, and others such as the Weatherization Assistance Program, will help provide those in need with relief from high energy prices and enhance the efficient use of energy well into the future.