WASHINGTON, DC – With colder weather around the corner and energy costs projected to precipitously increase this winter, U.S. Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Susan Collins (R-ME) led a bipartisan coalition of 36 Senators including Senator Angus King (I-ME) in urging the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to release funds for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) as swiftly and at the highest level possible.
The Senators say the federal LIHEAP funding is a crucial lifeline that assists low-income households and seniors on fixed incomes pay their energy bills and stay safe during the winter.
“Unfortunately the downside of the economy coming out of the pandemic means higher energy bills are forecast for this winter. With temperatures dropping and natural gas, oil, and other energy prices rising, many families could be facing home heating sticker shock in the months ahead. LIHEAP can help income-eligible households offset some of those utility costs. This is a public health program that helps people stay safe and warm during the cold winter months and ensures struggling seniors and families don’t have to face the ‘heat or eat’ dilemma by keeping their energy bills affordable,” said Senator Reed, who estimated that Rhode Island should receive over $50 million in LIHEAP funds this year, after he successfully helped lead the effort to include $4.5 billion for LIHEAP in the American Rescue Plan Act. “When energy prices rise, it hits low-income households harder. So it is crucial to get this federal funding out quickly to those who need it most.”
“During our long winters, vulnerable Mainers rely on the LIHEAP program to keep warm during the colder months,” said Senator Collins. “This funding will help ensure that low-income families and seniors do not have to make the impossible choice between paying for heat and paying for food or medicine, especially with the sharp increase in energy prices this year. As we combat the ongoing public health and economic crisis, it’s important that the Administration move quickly to distribute these critical funds appropriated by Congress.”
Nationwide, an estimated 5.3 million households received assistance with heating and cooling costs through LIHEAP in 2020.
Last year, Rhode Island was awarded $24 million in annual federal LIHEAP appropriations, as well as a $30.8 million one-time boost for the program through the American Rescue Plan. Over 26,000 Rhode Island households benefitted from LIHEAP last year, with the average annual LIHEAP benefit covering about $550 in winter home heating costs for Rhode Islanders.
Last year, Maine was awarded more than $40 million in annual federal LIHEAP appropriations, which served nearly 33,000 households in Maine.
The average cost of home heating is unaffordable for millions of low-income households, costing over $900 per year nationally.
With prices surging worldwide for heating oil, natural gas, and other fuels, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) is projecting increasing prices for home heating this winter. The EIA’s Winter Fuels Outlook reports households nationwide could see their heating bills jump as much as 54 percent over last winter. The EIA projects average bills of $1,734 for home heating oil, up from an average of $1,210 last year for the Northeast. The EIA also projects that Northeast customers who use natural gas will see their bills rise to $865, up from $731 last year. New England, which experiences colder winters than the rest of the region, could be pinched even harder.
LIHEAP is a federally funded program that helps low-income households with their home energy bills by providing payment and/or energy crisis assistance to pay for gas, electric, and other methods customers use to heat their homes. LIHEAP is administered by states and accessed through local Community Action Agencies. Eligibility for LIHEAP is based on income, family size, and the availability of resources.
Senior citizens and those receiving Social Security Disability or SSI benefits are encouraged to apply as early as possible, but applications will be open to everyone through spring of 2022 — or until the funding is exhausted.
In addition to Senators Reed and Collins, the bipartisan letter was signed by Senators: Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Angus King (I-ME), Tina Smith (D-MN), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Gary Peters (D-MI), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Raphael Warnock (D-GA), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), Bob Casey (D-PA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Patty Murray (D-WA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), John Warner (D-VA), Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), and Mark Kelly (D-AZ).
Text of the letter follows:
October 15, 2021
The Honorable Xavier Becerra
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
330 C Street, SW
Washington, D.C. 20416
Dear Secretary Becerra:
With passage of the continuing resolution, we write to urge the Department of Health and Human Services to release Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) funds as quickly and at the highest level possible.
As the main federal program that helps low-income households and seniors with their energy bills, LIHEAP provides critical assistance during the cold winter and hot summer months. October marks the start of the heating season for many states and low-income families and seniors will be facing additional strains on their household budgets. In addition, millions of low-income families, including seniors, are facing new and severe financial hardship due to the coronavirus, making the assistance provided through LIHEAP more important than ever.
As state agencies work to prepare their LIHEAP programs for the coming winter, it is crucial that they have the resources they need to assist low-income households and seniors as soon as possible, especially in light of the current health crisis. As such, we request that you quickly release LIHEAP funds at the highest level possible to allow states to prepare for the upcoming season, so that low-income households do not have to choose between paying for heat and affording other necessities like food or medicine.
We look forward to continuing to work with you on this critical program, and thank you for your attention to our concerns and those of our constituents.