It’s an issue that transcends party politics and unites members of Congress based on geography.
Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte have joined 41 other cold-weather states’ senators in asking President Obama to restore about $1.3 billion in additional funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, commonly known as LIHEAP.
In a letter last week the senators asked for $4.7 billion for the program for fiscal 2016. Earlier this year, the two senators asked the Senate Appropriations Committee to fund the program at that same level for fiscal 2015, but the government funding bill passed by Congress earlier this month provided $3.39 billion through Sept. 30, 2015.
“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,” the bipartisan group of senators wrote. “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.”
The letter also noted that 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.”
According to the state Office of Energy and Planning, which coordinates the program administered by community action agencies, eligibility is based on maximum gross household at 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Guideline.
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