WASHINGTON — In an effort to help millions of Americans who are struggling with their energy bills as winter approaches, U.S. Senators Ben Cardin and Barbara A. Mikulski (both D-MD) have joined a bipartisan group of 40 U.S. Senators calling on the Obama Administration to restore vital federal heating aid funds.
The letter, which had bipartisan support, urged President Obama to restore Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) to at least the FY 2011 level of $4.7 billion. The struggling U.S. economy and still high energy prices have caused record numbers of Americans to apply for home heating assistance.
“LIHEAP funding for FY2014 falls far short of the need,” said Senator Cardin. “LIHEAP is a necessity for many thousands of Maryland families who depend on it to heat their homes in the cold winter months. As the economy slowly recovers from the worst recession since the Great Depression, we need to provide Marylanders with the assistance they need to stay warm in the winter.”
“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 during the winter months.”
In 2011, LIHEAP provided assistance to more than 149,000 Maryland households. The average Maryland household assistance was $453, according to the Campaign for Energy Assistance.
In November, the U.S. Energy Information Administration released their Winter Fuels Outlook report which stated that the average expenditures for households that heat with heating oil are forecast to be higher than any previous winter on record.
Eligibility for LIHEAP is based on income, family size, and the availability of resources.
Text of the letter follows:
Dear Mr. President:
We are writing to request that you prioritize the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) in yow- Fiscal Year 2014 (FY14) budget proposal by including no less than $4.7 billion for this critical support for our least fortunate.
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. Energy costs are challenging for the budgets of American households. In fact, according to a recent Energy Information and Administration (EIA) report, household expenditures this winter for heating oil and natural gas are projected to increase by 19 percent and 15 percent respectively. While this constrains middle-income households, it disproportionately affects low-income households, many of which are seniors and on fixed-incomes. Moreover, with Social Security benefits increasing by only 1.7 percent this year, or an average of $19 per month, many elderly Americans will be facing difficult choices to simply provide a basic level of comfort in their home.
As supporters of the LIHEAP program we are very cognizant of the challenges that our discretionary budget faces in FY14. However, we are deeply concerned that funding for the program has declined 32 percent in recent years to $3.47 billion last year at the same time the number of households eligible for the program continues to exceed those receiving assistance. As a result, we urge you to reprioritize this program within your FY14 budget and restore funding to this indispensable program to a level of $4.7 billion.
We thank you for your consideration and look forward to working with you to address this important priority.
Jack Reed (D-RI)
Olympia Snowe (R-ME)
Bernie Sanders (I-VT)
Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)
Jay Rockefeller (D-WV)
Joe Lieberman (I-CT)
Sherrod Brown (D-OH)