Leahy and Sanders seek swift release of LIHEAP heating help

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Leahy and Sanders seek swift release of LIHEAP heating help

Mon, 10/19/2020 - 11:27am -- tim

40 senators urge the Trump Administration to provide LIHEAP funds to states as soon as possible

Vermont Business Magazine With winter around the corner and heating costs projected to increase this season, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) joined a bipartisan coalition of 40 senators 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 under the current continuing resolution. 

The senators say 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.  Under a continuing Appropriations Committee resolution, HHS typically releases 90 percent of the $3.7 billion full-year appropriation.

Leahy said:  “With the pandemic continuing to depress family incomes nationwide, and an early fall here in Vermont, it’s vital that HHS act swiftly to release LIHEAP dollars to the states.  As vice chairman of the Appropriations Committee I’ve fought year after year to support strong funding for LIHEAP because I know Vermonters rely on this help to keep warm.  Any delay in sending these dollars to Vermont will result in Vermont families delaying filling their fuel tanks as nights get colder.  I understand the urgency, and I hope the Administration does as well.” 

Sanders said:  “As a result of this horrific health and economic crisis, Vermonters are hurting like they have never hurt before. It is critical that we get this home heating lifeline to Vermonters immediately.  In the richest country on Earth, we have a moral responsibility to make sure that no one has to make the unacceptable choice between putting food on the table, paying for their prescription drugs, or heating their homes this winter.”

On the Appropriations Committee Leahy has long been an advocate for the LIHEAP program and has secured funding increases for the program over the past three years.  The current appropriations law included $3.7 billion for LIHEAP, and an additional $900 million was included in the CARES Act.  The continuing resolution, which funds the government at the previous year’s levels, preserves the increase that Leahy secured for the program in 2020.

The average cost of home heating is unaffordable for millions of low-income households, costing an average of $911 per year nationally.  Heating oil and propane cost even more, over $1,500 every year.  The timely release of these funds will provide critical assistance to families unemployed as a result of the pandemic pay their energy bills.  According to the National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association, 15 to 20 percent of residential customers are at least 60 days behind on their electric and natural gas bills, and estimated arrearages are over $20 billion nationally.

LIHEAP is a federally funded program that helps low-income households with their home energy bills by providing payment and/or energy crisis assistance.  Vermont’s LIHEAP funds are administered by the Department for Children and Families, and accessed through local Community Action Agencies. 

To apply for LIHEAP help, Vermonters can apply at the Vermont Department for Children and Families website to get more information and links to an online application.  Or Vermonters can contact their local Community Action Agency.  Eligibility for LIHEAP is based on income, family size and the availability of resources.

The bipartisan letter was led by Senator Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine).

The text of the letter follows:

October 14, 2020

The Honorable Alex M. Azar II

Secretary

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

330 C Street, SW

Washington, D.C. 20416

Dear Secretary Azar:

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.

Sincerely,

(MONDAY, Oct. 19, 2020) – Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)