(Washington, D.C.)-U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen today joined a bipartisan group of 47 Senators in urging President Obama to immediately release $590 million in emergency contingency funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).
"Releasing emergency LIHEAP funding will help thousands of families and seniors with their energy bills, and in doing so, create a noticeable economic multiplier. Less burdened by energy bills, these low-income families have more to spend on other essentials, and can avoid the choice between paying energy bills and putting food on their table," said the bipartisan group of Senators in a letter to Obama.
Congress recently approved $5.1 billion in funding for LIHEAP as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2010, including the $590 million in emergency funds which are set aside at the President's discretion to help states respond to economic hardship, natural disasters, and other emergencies.
With unemployment rates still at or near record highs across the country, millions of Americans are struggling to stay warm this winter. In 2009, New Hampshire experienced a 26 percent increase in the number of households eligible for LIHEAP and, nationally, applications to the program are expected to increase by 20 percent in 2010. Emergency funds released to New Hampshire would be used to provide benefits to new applicants and/or increase the base benefit for households currently on the program.
According to the New Hampshire Office of Energy and Planning, nearly 30,000 New Hampshire households are currently certified to receive home heating assistance through LIHEAP.
The full text of the letter to President Obama follows:
January 8, 2010
The White House
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President:
We write to thank you for your support of energy assistance for low-income families and to request that you utilize funding from the recently enacted Consolidated Appropriations Act to further aid financially-strapped households in paying their energy bills. As you know, $5.1 billion was provided for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) in Fiscal Year 2010 - the highest funding level in the history of the program. This appropriation includes more than $590 million in LIHEAP contingency funding. We urge you to release these resources as soon as possible to address the needs of families and seniors who are struggling in the current economic crisis. In addition, we ask that you dedicate sufficient funds for this program in your Fiscal Year 2011 budget request.
More families are in need of and receiving LIHEAP benefits than ever before. According to the National Energy Assistance Directors Association (NEADA), states assisted more than 8 million households last year, nearly a one-third increase over Fiscal Year 2008. Furthermore, NEADA anticipates a 20 percent increase in LIHEAP applications this year. Even at the record appropriations levels passed by Congress the last two years, demand for the LIHEAP program continues to exceed funding. Accordingly, states will be able to spend contingency funding immediately.
The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Act of 1981 instructs that the LIHEAP contingency fund be used assist the "needs of one or more States arising from a natural disaster or other emergency." The law states that economic conditions, such as increased unemployment and layoffs, as well increased participation in public benefits such as food stamps, merit the release of LIHEAP contingency funds. Clearly these conditions have been met. The most recent USDA food stamp data indicates that a record 37 million people - approximately one in eight Americans - received food stamps in September. Moreover, many states have experienced unemployment rates that have exceeded the national average for several months. In releasing these funds, we urge you to give consideration to targeting assistance based on economic conditions, as well as extreme weather events.
Releasing emergency LIHEAP funding - supplementing block grant funding already being spent in every state - will help thousands of families and seniors with their energy bills, and in doing so, create a noticeable economic multiplier. Less burdened by energy bills, these low-income families have more to spend on other essentials, and can avoid the choice between paying energy bills and putting food on their table.
Due to the clear economic benefit and demonstrated need, we also urge you to include full funding for LIHEAP in your Fiscal Year 2011 budget request, the same level that Congress has provided over the last two years.
For many years, LIHEAP has been a vital safety net for low-income families and seniors. In these tough economic times, the program is more important than ever. As such, we respectfully request that you release LIHEAP funding to meet the immediate, emergency needs, and urge you to maintain the federal commitment to low-income energy assistance.
Thank you for your consideration of this important issue.
Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Max Baucus (D-MT), Mark Begich (D-AK), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Kit Bond (R-MO), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Bob Casey (D-PA), Susan Collins (R-ME), Chris Dodd (D-CT), Byron Dorgan (D-ND), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Russ Feingold (D-WI), Al Franken (D-MN), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Judd Gregg (R-NH), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Ted Kaufman (D-DE), John Kerry (D-MA), Paul Kirk (D-MA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Herb Kohl (D-WI), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Carl Levin (D-MI), Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), Richard Lugar (R-IN), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Patty Murray (D-WA), Mark Pryor (D-AR), Jack Reed (D-RI), John Rockefeller (D-WV), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Arlen Specter (D-PA), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Jon Tester (D-MT), Tom Udall (D-NM), Mark Warner (D-VA), Jim Webb (D-VA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Ron Wyden (D-OR)