WASHINGTON, D.C. – December 9, 2011 – (RealEstateRama) — U.S. Congressmen James Langevin (RI-02) and David Cicilline (RI-01), are taking a lead role in trying to preserve heating assistance for struggling families this winter. Rhode Island’s two representatives were original co-sponsors of legislation, just introduced with Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (ME-01), that would allocate $4.7 billion for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) in Fiscal year 2012, ensuring resources equal to the previous year’s levels. The bill matches the measure sponsored by Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse.
In conjunction with 86 of their colleagues, Langevin and Cicilline also submitted a letter to the leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives urging the House Appropriations Committee to refrain from cutting funds from LIHEAP as proposed in the draft Fiscal Year 2012 Labor, Health and Human Services Funding Bill released by Republican leadership. (Full text of the letter below)
“Cutting our debt is critical to our nation’s economic health, but it is morally reprehensible to force disadvantaged families, seniors and the disabled to go without heat during the coldest months of the year while preserving hundreds of billions of dollars in tax breaks for oil companies and other special interests that don’t need help. We can, and must, find these savings elsewhere,” said Langevin.
“It is unconscionable that big oil companies reap billions of dollars in government subsidies, while many Rhode Islanders literally get left out in the cold. With so many Rhode Islanders struggling in this challenging economy, LIHEAP funding is a vital lifeline that we must protect,” said Cicilline.
LIHEAP provides low income households with help in meeting their most immediate home energy needs during the winter months. As the Fiscal Year 2012 appropriations process continues, Langevin and Cicilline wanted to call attention to the importance of LIHEAP for Rhode Island and urge leaders in Congress to reject efforts to reduce funding for the program. The Congressmen recognize the importance of LIHEAP funding in northern states like Rhode Island, where a lack of household heating can lead to sickness. This year, the number of households eligible for aid through LIHEAP is expected to reach record levels, with more families turning to LIHEAP for assistance for the third year in a row.
According to the National Energy Assistance Director’s Association (NEADA), roughly 8.9 million families nationwide received LIHEAP heating assistance last winter, an increase of 16 percent from two years ago. Even at those levels, only roughly 20 percent of eligible families received aid. Yet, the House Appropriations Committee’s draft Labor, Health and Human Services appropriations bill would cut funding by $1.3 billion, more than 27 percent below the 2011 level, meaning about two million families would no longer be able to receive help from this vital program.
Text of the letter signed by Congressmen Langevin and Cicilline:
Dear Speaker Boehner, Leader Pelosi, Chairman Rogers and Ranking Member Dicks:
The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) provides a vital safety net for our nation’s low-income households. As you know, the current Continuing Resolution expires on November 18, 2011. As you work to develop an omnibus appropriations bill for FY2012, we urge you to fund LIHEAP at least at the FY2011 levels of $4.7 billion.
As a result of the economic downturn and continued high and rising energy prices, record numbers of families are turning to LIHEAP for assistance for the third year in a row. According to the National Energy Assistance Director’s Association (NEADA), roughly 8.9 million families nationwide received LIHEAP heating assistance last winter, an increase of 16 percent from two years ago. But even at those levels, only roughly 20 percent of the families eligible for assistance received LIHEAP aid. Reducing funding for LIHEAP to under $3.4 billion, as the House Appropriations Committee’s draft Labor, Health and Human Services appropriations bill would do, would mean that roughly 2 million families nationwide would no longer be able to receive help from this vital program.
For instance, at the funding level set forth in the draft House appropriations bill, it would mean a reduction in LIHEAP funds of nearly $180 million for New York, nearly $100 million for Pennsylvania, and nearly $60 million for Massachusetts from last winter. Vermont would lose more than 30 percent of its LIHEAP funds and Connecticut would see a cut of more than 20 percent. This funding level would mean that states like Minnesota and Wisconsin would see their LIHEAP funds cut by nearly half. These significant reductions could have tremendous impacts for low-income families in these states.
According to a survey conducted by the National Energy Assistance Director’s Association, nearly one third of families receiving LIHEAP assistance reported that they went without food during the last five years as a result of high home energy costs. Over 40 percent of families reported sacrificing medical care and 25 percent reported that someone in the home became sick because the home was too cold. Energy is a basic need and without LIHEAP assistance, low income families, senior citizens and the disabled faced difficult choices between paying their home energy bills or affording other basic necessities such as prescription drugs or food.
Cutting funding for LIHEAP so dramatically would have a devastating impact on millions of American families already suffering from the economic downturn. We must ensure that the poorest and most vulnerable families can continue to receive help. We therefore urge you to fund this critical program at least at the FY12011 level in FY12012.
Thank you for your continued support of the LIHEAP program and your consideration of this request.