WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Ben Cardin and Barbara A. Mikulski (both D-Md.) today announced that they have called on U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell to release needed federal heating assistance funds without delay, and at no less than $4.7 billion in fiscal year (FY) 2015. These funds, provided through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), provide aid to families across Maryland and the nation who are struggling to pay their energy bills as winter approaches. Senators Mikulski and Cardin sent a letter to Secretary Burwell along with 44 bipartisan Senate colleagues, led by Senators Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine).
“LIHEAP is a critical life line for more than 124,000 households in Maryland. Going without heat in the winter can be dangerous and even deadly to seniors, young children and the disabled,” said Senator Cardin. “As a matter of public health and safety, the federal government has a responsibility to help keep the power on for low-income households rather than leave American families in the dark.”
“No family should be forced to choose between paying the heating bill and putting food on the table,” Senator Mikulski said. “Too many people are being stretched and stressed by high energy costs. Providing critical energy assistance for low income families will help those most in need care for themselves and their families as winter approaches.”
LIHEAP funding proved especially important last winter, when many areas of the country experienced record cold, above-average snowfall and an extended winter season that produced snowfall events into late March. The letter sent to Secretary Burwell seeks to assist communities across Maryland and the country anticipate what level of federal assistance they can depend on in the coming months as they plan ahead for whatever winter brings.
In addition to Senators Cardin, Mikulski, Reed and Collins, Senators requesting LIHEAP funding include Senators Kelly Ayotte (R- N.H.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Robert Casey (D-Pa.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Angus King (D-Maine), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), John Walsh (D-Mont.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).
The full text of the letter to Secretary Burwell follows:
October 2, 2014
Dear Secretary Burwell:
As state agencies prepare their Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) programs for the winter, we respectfully request that the Department of Health and Human Services release LIHEAP funds as quickly and at as high of a level as possible under the current continuing resolution.
LIHEAP is the main federal program that helps low-income households and seniors with their energy bills, providing critical assistance during the cold winter and hot summer months. This funding has been an indispensable 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 or medicine. On average, low-income families and seniors spend a higher proportion of their income on energy, and for many states, October marks the start of the heating season, creating an additional constraint on these household budgets.
As the relevant state agencies begin to provide assistance for this winter, it is critical that they have the resources to assist low-income households and seniors as soon as possible. Therefore, we request that you quickly release LIHEAP funds and at as high of a level as possible in order to allow states and low-income households to prepare for the upcoming season.
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.