BURLINGTON, Vt., Nov. 26, 2007 – As soaring fuel prices stretch household budgets beyond the breaking point, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said today he will introduce legislation when Congress reconvenes next week to provide $1 billion in emergency home heating assistance.
Sanders called for the $1 billion boost in the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. President Bush, meanwhile, wants Congress to cut $379 million from the program that provides critical help to 5.8 million senior citizens on fixed-incomes and low-income families with children, including approximately 20,000 households in Vermont.
“This is an emergency. We ought to treat it like one. At a time when home heating oil prices are soaring, it is inconceivable that the president would even think of lowering assistance,” Sanders said.
“No family should be forced to choose between heating their home and putting food on the table for their children,” Sanders added. “No senior citizen should have to decide between buying life-saving prescriptions and paying utility bills.”
According to the Energy Information Administration, a typical household will pay almost $1,000 this winter to keep their homes warm, a jump of up to 22 percent from last year. The government agency reported that U.S. heating oil inventories as of mid-November were nearly 25 percent below both last year’s inventory numbers and the 10-year average.
Making matters worse, higher fuel prices have caused more people to seek help paying their heating bills so there is less help to go around.
In recent years, the number of households receiving home heating assistance increased by 26 percent from 4.6 million in 2003 to about 5.8 million in 2007. During the same period, federal support for the program went up by only 10 percent. As a result, the average grant declined from $349 to $305 while energy prices continued to rise. As a result, there has been a significant decrease in the program’s purchasing power.
According to the National Energy Assistance Directors Association, states are planning to reduce the number of households served by about 15 percent in the absence of additional federal and supplemental state funding. The result would be a decline in the number of households served from about 5.8 million in 2007 to 4.9 million during the coming year.
Sanders on November 20 was among senators from New England and other regions of the country who wrote to Bush urging the president to release $20 million left in a contingency fund to help people with low incomes afford to heat their homes.