Lawmakers pressuring Washington on heating aid cuts [Hearst newspapers]

September 22, 2011

September 21, 2011 at 4:53 pm by Brian Lockhart
Stories like the one our Hearst newspapers published this weekend about cuts to federal heating aid have Connecticut officials firing off letters to the decision-makers in Washington D.C.

If only the heat being generated by deficit-reduction fever could be used to warm households this winter…
First Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy’s office today released a letter he co-signed with other New England governors. Here’s the text:

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.

Then state Sen. Michael McLachlan, R-Danbury, issued a letter he has sent to U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio:
Dear Speaker Boehner,
Each year, more than 100,000 Connecticut families rely upon the Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) to assist in paying their winter heating bills.

Recently, there have been proposals to seriously cut the funding that is going into this program by the federal government.

Although I understand the need to cut costs, I believe that this is simply not a cut worth making. This cut would be simply devastating.

I urge you to work to keep this funding in place for the thousands of families in Connecticut that depend upon this funding to stay warm in the winter.