(The Center Square) — A group of Democratic senators are calling on President Joe Biden to provide more funding for fuel assistance with winter approaching.
In a letter to Biden administration officials, Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed, led by nearly 30 other Democrats, urged the White House Office of Management and Budget and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to “take additional steps” to reduce energy costs for Americans through the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program.
They said more funding is needed “once again,” with winter heating prices expected to remain roughly as high as last year and applications for fuel assistance up significantly.
They said the program is vital, with increased energy prices resulting from Russia’s war in Ukraine and inflationary pressures, to help families pay energy bills without foregoing other essentials.
The lawmakers cited the latest data from the National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association, which shows that states are reporting increases of up to 20% in the number of applications for the LIHEAP over the previous year.
“With limited funding, states will face tough choices about the amount of assistance they can provide and the number of people they can serve,” they wrote.
Others who signed the letter included Maine Sen. Angus King, Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey.
“As high energy costs and increased demand for LIHEAP assistance continue to put a strain on program resources, we urge you to include supplemental LIHEAP funding in any additional request you submit for FY24 appropriations,” they wrote.
Nationwide, an estimated 6 million households received assistance with heating and cooling costs through LIHEAP over the last year, according to federal data.
Under the LIHEAP program, homeowners who earn 60% of the state median income are eligible for assistance paying for fuel, electricity and weatherization upgrades.
The Biden administration and Congress provided $2 billion in emergency supplemental LIHEAP funding in the previous fiscal year, reaching $6.1 billion, in response to record-high energy costs.
Record-high inflation, supply-chain issues and Russia’s war in Ukraine have disrupted global energy markets, driving prices for home heating oil and natural gas higher over the past two years.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration said it expects households that heat with natural gas to see a slight decrease in costs this winter, but those who heat with oil will see slightly increased prices as global petroleum inventories are cut back.
Homes using heating oil will spend an average of $1,850 for heat this winter, up 6% from last year, according to the agency’s latest estimates.