January 23, 2014

Markey, Warren Press Obama Admin. to Release LIHEAP Funds ASAP

Nearly $500 million available to help needy families

WASHINGTON, DC - With millions of families facing harsh weather and economic conditions and nearly $490 million still remaining this year for the nation's low-income heating assistance program following recent passage of the omnibus spending bill, Massachusetts Democratic Senators Edward J. Markey and Elizabeth Warren today called on the Obama administration to immediately distribute those energy assistance benefits to Massachusetts residents.

In a letter sent to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, the Senators argue that budgetary certitude created by passing the 2014 appropriations bill allows the department to immediately distribute the almost $490 million remaining in the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). Temperatures have fallen in recent weeks to dangerous levels, but home heating prices have risen more than forecast.

"A combination of frigid temperatures and higher than anticipated energy prices is creating a dire situation for many New England households," the Senators write. "Releasing the nearly $490 million in remaining LIHEAP funds for this year as soon as possible is imperative to ensure that families who have already been stretched to the limit by these cuts can continue to pay their heating bills. We urge HHS to immediately release Massachusetts' share of all remaining heating assistance funds for the current year."

The full letter can be found HERE.

Families in Massachusetts and other cold weather states have been hit by a perfect storm of bad weather and economic conditions that make this program even more vital this winter. Home heating costs have outpaced earlier projections by the Energy Information Administration (EIA). For example, while the EIA had projected that families using heating oil would spend roughly the same amount this winter compared with last year, residential heating oil prices in Massachusetts have increased 25 cents a gallon - or roughly six percent - since the end of October. Residential propane prices in Massachusetts have risen 45 cents a gallon - or roughly 15 percent -during that same time. Natural gas prices in New England have also spiked in recent weeks, rising to nearly ten times the Henry Hub price.

LIHEAP funding has also been cut by about one-third over the last four years, leading to a reduction in benefits and the number of families receiving assistance in many states. Senator Markey and others have called for a restoration of full funding for the LIHEAP program to $5.1 billion per year.

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