Collins, King, Reed Lead Bipartisan Coalition Of Senators Seeking To Boost LIHEAP Fuel Assistance

WASHINGTON, DC – In an effort to help provide fuel assistance to households struggling with their winter heating bills, U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), Angus King (I-ME) and Jack Reed (D-RI) are once again leading the effort to restore and increase federal heating assistance to low-income families and seniors to past years’ levels.

Collins and Reed are leading a bipartisan coalition of 43 U.S. Senators, including King, in urging the President to provide Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) at no less than $4.7 billion.  Last year, Senators Reed and Collins successfully led the effort, with Sen. King’s support, to increase funding for LIHEAP by $169 million as part of the 2014 Consolidated Appropriations Act, which the President signed into law in January.  The (FY) 2015 Omnibus Appropriations Bill passed by Congress this week provides $3.39 billion in LIHEAP funding through September 30, 2015.
LIHEAP is the main federal program that helps low-income households and seniors with their energy bills, providing vital assistance during both the cold winter and hot summer months.  LIHEAP households are among the most vulnerable in the country.  According to the National Energy Assistance Director's Association, more than 90 percent of LIHEAP recipients have at least one household member who is a child, elderly, or disabled, and 20 percent of households include at least one veteran.

The current funding level is able to serve just 20 percent of the eligible population, and those who receive LIHEAP assistance have seen their average grant reduced by nearly $100 since 2010, from $520 in FY 2010 to $424 in FY 2014.  With the average LIHEAP grant estimated to cover less than half of the average home heating costs for a household this winter, many low-income families and seniors will struggle to pay for the basic necessity of home energy and will have fewer resources available to meet other essential needs.

“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.  “Energy costs remain high and LIHEAP funding is a vital lifeline that helps prevent people from having to choose between heating their home, paying their bills, or going without food or medicine.” 

“Maine’s bitterly cold winters present serious challenges for our state’s most vulnerable families, who often end up having to confront the choice of whether to pay the ever-increasing heating bill or provide for everyday necessities,” Senator King said. “I urge the Administration to include these critical funds, which will help tens of thousands of Mainers to stay warm while still being able to make ends meet.”

“Funding for LIHEAP is not keeping up with demand.  We are doing everything we can to stretch these federal dollars, but more families are in need and we need to protect them during the cold winter months.  We must keep the pressure on this Administration to robustly fund this critical program so that thousands of families can keep their heat on in the winter.  We must also continue making smart investments in weatherizing more homes to try to reduce both energy bills and fuel consumption,” said Senator Reed, noting that LIHEAP helped about 34,000 Rhode Islanders with their energy bills last year.

Text of the letter is provided below:

President 
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President,
We are writing to request that you prioritize the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) in your Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 budget proposal by including no less than $4.7 billion for this program that provides critical support to our most vulnerable citizens.

LIHEAP is the main federal program that helps low-income households and seniors with their energy bills, providing vital assistance during both the cold winter and hot summer months. LIHEAP households are among the most vulnerable in the country. According to the National Energy Assistance Director's Association, more than 90 percent of LIHEAP recipients have at least one household member who is a child, elderly, or disabled, and 20 percent of households include at least one veteran. For these households, LIHEAP funding has been a lifeline during challenging economic times. Access to affordable home energy is not a luxury. It is a matter of health and safety.

We understand the ongoing discretionary budget challenges. However, we are deeply concerned that the number of households eligible for LIHEAP assistance continues to exceed available funding while the average cost of home heating is expected to remain unaffordable for millions of households nationwide. In fact, the current funding level is able to serve just 20 percent of the eligible population, and those who receive LIHEAP assistance have seen their average grant reduced by nearly $100 since 2010, from $520 in FY 2010 to $424 in FY 2014.

Additionally, the purchasing power of LIHEAP has declined in recent years. Since FY 2010, the average LIHEAP grant has fallen from about 60 percent to 44 percent of the cost of home heating. For households using delivered fuels, this decline is even more dramatic, covering just 18 percent of heating oil and propane costs. With the average LIHEAP grant estimated to cover less than half of the average home heating costs for a household this winter, many low-income families and seniors will struggle to pay for the basic necessity of home energy and will have fewer resources available to meet other essential needs.

As you finalize your FY 2016 budget request, we ask that you take into account the high demand for LIHEAP assistance. We urge you to reprioritize this program within your FY 2016 budget and restore funding to this program to a level no less than $4.7 billion.
Thank you for your attention to and consideration of this important request.

Sincerely,

Jack Reed
Susan Collins
Angus King
Sherrod Brown
Kelly Ayotte
Edward Markey
Lisa Murkowski
Bernard Sanders
Sheldon Whitehouse
Tom Udall
Amy Klobuchar
Jeff Merkley
Tammy Baldwin
Richard Blumenthal
Mazie Hirono
Jeanne Shaheen
Al Franken
Kirsten Gillibrand
Carl Levin
Mark Pryor
Mark Begich
Kay Hagan
Robert Casey
John Walsh
Mary Landrieu
John Rockefeller
Chris Coons
Patrick Leahy
Tim Johnson
Joe Manchin
Richard Durbin
Brian Schatz
Elizabeth Warren
Cory Booker
Robert Menendez
Dianne Feinstein
Chris Murphy
Debbie Stabenow
Charles Schumer
Tim Kaine
Ron Wyden
Maria Cantwell
Jon Tester
 

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