Maine delegation stands up for LIHEAP

Posted Wednesday, December 14, 2011 in News

Maine delegation stands up for LIHEAP

by Gina Hamilton

In a rare show of unity, Maine's congressional delegation worked to restore funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which had been slashed in half in this fiscal year's budget. Maine is expected to receive $23 million, down from $56 million last year. For a Maine household, that means an average drop of $500 for the year.

The bill Rep. Chellie Pingree (D) introduced would increase funding nationwide to $4.7 billion, up from the low figure of $2.57 billion, but still down from the original $5.1 billion low-income Americans shared last year. 

“Mainers work so hard for the little they have. They’ve already turned down the thermostat — what more can we ask them to do? For families, these cuts mean even harder decisions about balancing heat with other essentials like food and medicine,” said Pingree. “And for local businesses, these cuts mean trimming millions of dollars from family budgets that won’t be spent at the mechanic or local store.”  

In the House, 2nd District Rep. Michael Michaud (D) joined Pingree in advocating for the renewed funding. He signed on as a co-sponsor of Pingree's bill.

Meanwhile, on the Senate side, both Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins are working to restore LIHEAP funding.

“This is absolutely a travesty,” Snowe said of the cuts. “This is a program that can really make the difference between life and death.”

She made these comments as she and two other New England senators, Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Jack Reed, D-R.I., put forth a bill called The LIHEAP Protection Act. New England is especially hard hit by cold weather, and most people in northern New England use oil as heating fuel. When prices fluctuate rapidly, as they have done this year, the costs can be catastrophic for low-income families and seniors. Snowe said that the funding level proposed by the president will leave many low-income families choosing between heat and food this winter. Collins also advanced her support to the bill as a co-sponsor.

If the bills do not pass, the average household award will be only $344 this year, down from $844 last year. At today's oil prices, that's about 95 gallons, while the average Maine household uses 10 times that amount in the course of a heating season.

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