The House last Thursday overwhelmingly approved a measure that would provide additional aid to low-income energy consumers this year, bringing total congressional funding for the program to more than $3 billion in 2006.
After voting 287 to 128, House lawmakers forwarded the bill to President Bush who is expected to sign it. Like the Senate bill, the House measure shifts $1 billion that was appropriated for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) in a recent deficit-reduction package from fiscal 2007 to the current fiscal year. The Senate, by voice vote, approved its bill (S 2320) on March 7.
Congress agreed that half of the additional LIHEAP dollars would be placed in a separate "contingency" fund to be released at the discretion of the president. The other 50% of the additional funds would be included in the base funding for the LIHEAP program, which would be allocated to poor energy consumers in both warm- and cold-weather states.
"This is the highest level of funding for LIHEAP in its 20-year history," said the American Gas Association, which represents natural gas utilities. The $1 billion in added LIHEAP dollars will bring base funding in fiscal 2006 to $2.5 billion and emergency funding to $700 million, the utility group noted.
Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (R-ME), the sponsor of the LIHEAP bill, and other northeastern lawmakers have been trying since November to win more funds for LIHEAP to be disbursed during the current winter heating season, which officially ends at the close of March.
In a related development, the Senate narrowly approved last Thursday an amendment as part of its budget resolution that expresses lawmakers' support to raise funding for LIHEAP by $3.318 billion in fiscal 2007. The move, if approved by Senate appropriators, would increase total funding to the $5.1 billion level that is fully authorized for LIHEAP under the Energy Policy Act of 2005.
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