The reality of a fast approaching cold winter and soaring home heating prices has prompted legislators to call for action on the United Stated Department of Health and Human Services’ (DHHS) LIHEAP budget. A bipartisan group of Senators, as well as a bipartisan group of Congressmen, have written to DHHS, asking for the immediate release of LIHEAP funds for FY11. Although the current continuing resolution keeps LIHEAP funding at the 2011 level, the President has called for a 50% reduction on the LIHEAP budget for 2012, and as a result, DHHS has been reluctant to release funding.
In a letter addressed to Kathleen Sebelius, the Secretary of US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), 32 Senators representing both Republicans and Democrats called for the release of FY11 LIHEAP funds to states “as quickly and at as high of a level as possible .“ The letter states “low-income families spend a higher proportion of their income on energy, and this is particularly true during times of extreme temperatures and increased energy prices. “ In a similar letter to HHS, a bipartisan group of Congressman also called for an immediate release of “as much LIHEAP funding as possible under the current continuing resolution” (which ends November 18, 2011), and added that “October marks the beginning of the coldest months for many families and it is not the time to hold up this needed relief”.
Currently, benefit levels for client-families cannot be established. Without this critical first step, oil dealers cannot plan deliveries for the program’s official November 1 start, deliveries desperately needed by tens of thousands of families who qualify for the program. Additionally, fuel assistance advocates do not have the client benefit information they need to work with utility companies to get families who have had their gas and/or electric shut off turned back on before the November 15 winter “moratorium” on shut offs. If utilities are not turned on by that date, families will go into the winter without heat or electricity.
If these families to go without home heating aid, many are left with the decision to pay their heating bill or put food on the table. The action by the Legislators on behalf of program participants is progress, but it is not the only thing that can be done. We must continue to let your Senators, Congressman and President know how imperative this program is to our seniors, children and working families.