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(Washington, DC) – United States Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) spoke today on the Senate floor to urge Congress to provide funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which provides crucial heating assistance for families and seniors in need during the winter.

The Senate is expected to vote on a full-year spending bill later today, which would include almost $3.5 billion for LIHEAP, and send it to the President for his signature. The House passed the spending bill earlier today.

Shaheen has been an outspoken advocate for LIHEAP and has opposed efforts to cut funding for it. The federal government provided $4.5 billion in LIHEAP assistance nationwide in 2011, down from $5 billion in 2010. 

Senator Shaheen’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, are below.

Mr. President, I am here to urge my colleagues in Congress and the Obama Administration to provide funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP.  LIHEAP provides immediate, critical heating assistance for families and seniors in need during these freezing cold winter months.

Last year, more than 45,000 New Hampshire households received LIHEAP funds; that’s more than 106,000 individuals.  But this year, many of those families have been on waiting lists.  Funding for the program has been in limbo at a time when temperatures are dropping.  The Department of Health and Human Services has released $1.7 billion already, but so much more is needed.

Making matters worse, the Energy Information Administration projects a 10 percent increase in the price of heating oil this winter; resulting in the highest average winter price ever predicted.  In New Hampshire, more than half of our homes rely on home heating oil.  The number of families in need of assistance is growing by the day.  And state offices are being forced to change funding eligibility as they grapple with uncertainty over future funds.

Now, Mr. President, there are two things that can be done in order to immediately address this situation before it escalates into a serious crisis. 

First, Congress needs to pass an omnibus appropriations bill as soon as possible.  I am pleased we have been able to reach agreement on an omnibus appropriations measure and it looks like we are on track to pass that bill tomorrow.  The omnibus includes nearly $3.5 billion in funding for LIHEAP, but we need to get that money out the door. 

Second, now that Congress has spoken with one voice on LIHEAP funding, the Administration needs to release additional LIHEAP funds as quickly as possible.  The $1.7 billion already released by HHS is clearly not enough, but the knowledge of additional LIHEAP funds pending in the omnibus should give President Obama the assurance he needs to release more money.  At this holiday season what better gift could be provide than to make sure people can be warm and safe in their homes.  I hope once this budget is passed, the Administration will release additional funds as soon as possible.

Now, Mr. President, it is difficult these days to argue for more funding. Our deficit challenges are clear.

In fact, I’ve already voted for more than $1 trillion in cuts to federal spending this year.  I’ve continued to call for a comprehensive, balanced, bipartisan plan that looks at both revenues and spending.  And I have been working with a bipartisan group of now 44 Senators calling for $4 trillion in deficit reduction.

But when cutting our budget, we need to look at wasteful spending, duplicative programs, and subsidies to industries that that no longer need our help.

LIHEAP doesn’t fall under any of those categories.  It’s not a frivolous program—it is a program that ensures that the most vulnerable citizens in New Hampshire and across our county are not forgotten and left to freeze.

I have been hearing from people across our state about the difficulties they will face if this funding is not available and available soon.  I’d like to tell just one of their stories, the story of Kim Brandolini of Nashua, New Hampshire.

In 2010, Kim suffered a series of strokes that left her disabled and unable to work.  LIHEAP funds covered nearly all of her monthly fuel costs last year.  But this year, because of the cuts, she is on a waiting list.

She doesn’t know how she will pay to heat her house. She already owes the oil company $600 dollars.  And last year she had to pay $6,000 to replace a broken boiler.

Kim is only 44 years old. She is raising a son on her own. And she served for 14 years in the Army Reserve. 

In Nashua – which I’ll add is in one of the warmest parts of the state – the average nightly low is below freezing for nearly half the year.  If we don’t find a way to fund LIHEAP now, Kim and thousands of others like her will have no way to keep their families safe and warm.

We need to act. And we need to act quickly.

Already, the delay in funding has prevented states like New Hampshire from taking advantage of more affordable bulk purchases.

The bottom line is now that we have a budget agreement, we need to release additional funds so that thousands of New Hampshire families stay warm and don’t have to make impossible choices between basic needs.

We can’t leave families like Kim Brandolini’s out in the cold.