Late in the workday on Friday, October 28, 2011, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services finally informed states that $1.7 billion had been authorized for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). This was perplexing as the program starts on November 1st. States were then left to quickly calculate benefit levels and receive authorization to start the program.
At the same time, the amount for LIHEAP authorized by Washington, DC is inadequate for the long winter ahead with high prices for oil and rising numbers of people in poverty. As a result, households in need will get less than half of the fuel assistance they received last year. For families that heat with oil, for example, the benefit will allow them to buy enough oil to last to mid-December leaving them without help for three month of winter. Both the Senate Labor-HHS and the House Subcommittee budget spending bills appropriate $3.4 billion for LIHEAP. On November 1, 2011 Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts (a member of the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction) sent a letter to the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid urging additional funding for LIHEAP in the Federal Fiscal Year 2012 Budget.
We must continue to push for funding LIHEAP at a full level of $5.1 billion. In the United States, we should not force our seniors, children, and working poor families to choose between heating and eating.