WASHINGTON— A group of House Democrats is advancing a measure to block President Barack Obama’s proposed funding cut for a federal heating assistance program for low-income households.
Rep. Ed Markey, D- Mass., said Wednesday he has introduced a bill to increase the level of funding for and expand the availability of the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program. It also would allow families to qualify for the funding if they have incomes of 75 percent of their state median income level.
“As Americans we have a responsibility to ensure that no one is left behind, no one is abandoned, no one is without hope and that is what LIHEAP does,” said Markey. “It ensures that no Americans are left to shiver during winter’s dark and cold nights.”
The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program give states money to help heat the homes of millions of low-income households.
According to the National Energy Assistance Directors Association, the program assisted 8.9 million households last year. However, more than 30 million households qualified for help.
“No household should have to suffer chills in order to pay their bills this winter,” said Markey.
The measure would increase funding for Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program to $7.6 billion, an increase of $2.5 billion from the last authorized level of $5 billion in 2010. Funding dropped to $4.7 billion in 2011 and $3.5 billion in 2012, according to the American Gas Association.
President Barack Obama’s 2013 budget proposal, released earlier this week, would allot $3 billion to the program, a cut of $470 million from this year.
“This is a moral issue,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., a co-sponsor of Markey’s bill. “We have the money, but it’s our priorities that are misplaced.”
The Obama administration argues the $3 billion is more than it requested last year, although Congress increased the funding last year beyond the White House proposal.
However, legislators from cold weather states pointed out that Obama’s 2013 request falls short of an earlier $3.5 billion negotiation reached between Democrats and Republicans.
While the cost of natural gas, the most common heating fuel for the Low-Income Home Energy Program, remains stagnant, the price of heating oil has been rising.
“With the price of home heating fuel on the rise and many Vermonters struggling in this tough economy, this is clearly not the time to cut this critical lifeline,” said Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt.