Governor Shumlin, New England Governors urge Congress not to reduce low-income heating assistance

For Immediate Release
September 22, 2011

Contact
Ari Wengroff
802-279-6825

Governor Peter Shumlin, along with the other five governors of New England states, has sent a letter to Congress urging members not to reduce funding for the Low Income Heating Assistance Program (LIHEAP). Governor Shumlin made the following statement regarding the letter:

“As winter draws closer, I am very concerned that federal funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) might be reduced. A decrease in LIHEAP funding would put additional stress on our most vulnerable Vermonters, at a time when we are already stretched thin from the effects of Tropical Storm Irene. This issue cuts through party lines, as demonstrated by all six New England governors coming together to urge Congressional leaders to maintain LIHEAP funding at $5.1 billion.  As New England Governors, we recognize that Northeast households face some of the nation’s highest home heating bills due to the long winters and high price of delivered fuels. In our letter to Congress, we outline the urgent need for this modest but vital relief for households already struggling with unaffordable energy bills. I cannot emphasize enough the need to fund this important program so all Vermonters get the heat they need this winter.”

Please see the letter below:

The Honorable Harry Reid
Majority Leader
U.S. Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510

The Honorable John Boehner
Speaker of the House
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515

The Honorable Mitch McConnell
Minority Leader
U.S. Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510

The Honorable Nancy Pelosi
Minority Leader
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Majority Leader Reid, Leader McConnell, Speaker Boehner, and Leader Pelosi:

As our states prepare for the coming winter heating season, we are deeply concerned over reports that the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) funding in FY2012 could be reduced by as much as 50 percent. This reduction would jeopardize meaningful assistance for the most vulnerable low income households struggling to pay unaffordable home energy bills. We recognize that you face difficult budget decisions in the coming days. However, as home heating fuel prices continue their upward trend, we respectfully urge you to support LIHEAP funding at the level of $5.1 billion, the last level Congress authorized.

Households in the Northeast face some of the nation’s highest home heating bills due to the long winter heating season and heating fuel prices that typically exceed national average prices regardless of the fuel used. Households in our states are more likely to be dependent on expensive delivered fuels, such as home heating oil or propane. In August, home heating oil prices in the Northeast were approximately $3.80/gallon – a 15 percent increase over 2008 prices and a more than 25 percent increase over 2010. The Energy Information Administration projects that the price of home heating oil will reach $4.00/gallon this winter. At these prices, the cost of filling a typical tank is over $1,000.

If LIHEAP funding in FY2012 is reduced to the level of $2.57 billion, our states will be required to take drastic measures that will endanger the most vulnerable LIHEAP households. As outlined in the enclosed fact sheet prepared by the Coalition of Northeastern Governors (CONEG), these include reducing benefit levels from 25 to up to 50 percent, tightening eligibility standards, or delaying payments until the coldest part of the winter or shutting the program down when the weather is still cold. Each option holds potential risks for the households, particularly the 60 percent of LIHEAP households in the Northeast with income below the federal poverty level of $15,000 for a two-person household. Changing LIHEAP eligibility standards could cut off households from other public and private assistance such as shut off moratoriums and assistance with paying down arrearages. If the basic LIHEAP benefit is reduced as much as 50 percent this winter, it would not cover the cost of the minimum delivery required by home heating fuel dealers.

We urge you to support a funding level of $5.1 billion in FY2012 so that this vital program can continue to offer modest yet urgently needed relief to millions of our nation’s most vulnerable households struggling with unaffordable energy bills.

Sincerely,

Dannel P. Malloy
Governor of Connecticut

Paul R. LePage
Governor of Maine

Deval L. Patrick
Governor of Massachusetts

John H. Lynch
Governor of New Hampshire

Lincoln D. Chafee
Governor of Rhode Island

Peter Shumlin
Governor of Vermont

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