Congress Gives Low Income Energy Assistance $5B

By Published On: October 3, 2008

The U.S. Senate sent a massive 2009 money bill to President Bush September 26 that doubles funding for the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program to $5.1 billion. The same piece of legislation also lifts the moratorium on offshore oil and gas drilling. Under the measure, California would see its base energy assistance funding more than double, from $92 million in 2008 to $225 million in the 2009 federal fiscal year. Utility and state energy officials applauded the increased funding. They have been warning that higher energy prices threaten to leave millions in the cold this winter. Senate action followed House passage of the measure September 24. “LIHEAP is a fundamental and critical service to our citizens,” said Marsha Smith, National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners president, upon passage of the bill. American Gas Association vice president Rick Shelby said that the “record level” of funding “will help insure that millions of low-income American families will stay warm this winter.” Following last winter, 1.7 million California households were in arrears on their home energy bills, according to the National Energy Assistance Directors Association. The $5.1 billion provided by the measure increases the basic grant funding level for states from $1.96 billion in fiscal 2008 to $4.5 billion. The measure authorizes the President to release an additional $590 million in contingency funds on an “as needed” basis. It also eases the income eligibility limit for assistance under the program. Representative Ed Markey (D-MA) said the funding increase would “expand the number of people eligible for LIHEAP assistance” at a time when costs are increasing for “everything from gas to groceries.” Final passage follows President Bush’s release September 17 of the last $121 million in fiscal 2008 LIHEAP contingency funds to states. California got $4.4 million of the contingency money. The new spending bill allows states to carry over funds remaining from 2008 for use in 2009. Senate action came after a bipartisan group of 48 Senators called for doubling the low income program in correspondence to the Senate Appropriations Committee earlier in September. The LIHEAP funding is included in a mega spending bill, which provides funding for the federal government to continue to operate in the coming 12 months after the 2008 fiscal year expired September 30. California and other states use LIHEAP money to assist low income households with energy conservation retrofits and payment of home energy bills.

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