Senate Democrats

SENATE DEMOCRATS FIGHT FOR HEATING ASSISTANCE

Amendment receives support from Democratic Governors Association, Praise for Addressing issue as a priority

Washington, D.C. – Today, Senate Democrats led by Senators Edward M. Kennedy, Jack Reed, Harry Reid and John Kerry, offered an amendment to the Transportation, Treasury, Housing and Urban Development appropriations bill to provide 3.1 billion dollars in emergency federal assistance to low-income and elderly residents.

LIHEAP, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, grants aid to low-income families who can’t afford the steep cost of energy. The number of households receiving this assistance has increased from 4 million in 2002 to 5 million this year, the highest level in ten years.

Today, The Democratic Governor’s Association praised the Reed-Collins Amendment to provide energy assistance. In the letter, sent by Chairman Bill Richardson of New Mexico, the Governors state that “It is unacceptable to force Americans to choose between basic needs.” The Governors urge Senators to support the amendment and to enable America’s poorest families to receive needed aid.

“Providing energy assistance to the poorest citizens of this country during the harsh winter months should be America’s top priority, but sadly the Administration continues to focus on misplaced priorities, Senator Kennedy said. “In spite of Katrina, the Administration and the House of Representatives continue to close their eyes to the long-term needs of the poor.”

Reed stated, “No family should have to choose between heating their home and putting food on the table for their children. No senior citizen should have to decide to either buy life-saving prescription drugs or pay their electric bill. But, unfortunately, low-income Americans are facing these decisions this winter and Washington is not providing the resources needed to help. Record high heating prices could wipe out many families in the Northeast this winter. We must act now to increase federal assistance for heating programs.”

Senator Reid said, “America can do better than leaving working families out in the cold this winter. With heating costs across the country breaking new records this year, we must come together and provide our families with the relief they need now. It would be morally wrong not to respond to this emergency.”

“We are joined by governors from across the country in urging Congress and the White House to wake up and help families cope with record-high heating prices this winter. We refuse to abandon families, especially seniors, who won’t be able to afford to keep the heat on. The administration’s own Energy Information Administration knows this problem is real. Governors across the country see this. So why are the White House and the Republican leadership in Congress going out of their way to do nothing? What’s it going to take for the White House to act? If Katrina showed us anything, it’s that we can’t afford to wait until the crisis is here and it’s too late. It’s time Washington stop playing games, get with the program, and start figuring out how we’re going to keep the heat on for American families this winter,” said John Kerry.

This year the Bush Administration has continued to slash funding for LIHEAP. As a result, families throughout the nation are likely to face higher heating bills this winter. On average, households heating primarily with natural gas will pay about $350 (48 percent) more this winter for heat, and those relying primarily on oil will pay about $378 (32 percent) more. Forecasts of a cold winter and high fuel costs mean that the elderly, the disabled, and many others will be forced to make painful choices between heating their homes and paying for food, health care, and rent – unless we act now.

Rising energy costs are a huge part of the problem. Significant numbers of citizens live with the constant threat of power shut-offs, because they can’t pay their energy bills, and there’s no relief in sight. According to a recent report by the Energy Information Administration, the outlook for the coming winter is bleak. Home heating bills are likely to soar. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita have strained already-tight oil and natural gas production. According to the American Petroleum Institute, 20 percent of the nation’s refinery capacity is down or is restarting as a result of damage by both hurricanes.

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