Three Democratic leaders of the House on Monday called on the Bush administration to act immediately to increase spending for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) this winter,
"We urge you to take two immediate actions. First, release the remaining $101 million from the contingency fund to provide much-needed assistance [with energy bills]. Second, send Congress a supplemental appropriations request by the end of the month that increases funding up to the full $5.1 billion authorized for LIHEAP" under the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct), said House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland and Democratic Caucus Chairman James Clyburn of South Carolina in a letter to President Bush. "These funds would help millions of extremely vulnerable people who are at risk in the face of skyrocketing heating bills," they said.
Republican leaders in Congress missed an opportunity in December to provide $2 billion in supplemental LIHEAP spending in a failed attempt to link home heating assistance to drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), which Democrats opposed, the three leaders said. An additional $1 billion of LIHEAP appropriations in the budget reconciliation conference report is pending in the Senate and will not be available until 2007, the House lawmakers noted.
Congress so far has approved just over $2 billion in LIHEAP assistance for fiscal year 2006, which is in keeping with the request of the Bush administration. Much of the money already has been distributed to the states. EPAct authorizes a maximum amount of $5.1 billion for LIHEAP spending, but it's unlikely that Congress would approve that this year.
"Applications to the state energy assistance offices are up 11%, marking the highest number of applications in 12 years. Yet congressional funding for home-heating assistance is $20 million lower than it was last year despite significant increases in the cost of energy and the number of families applying for assistance," the House Democrats said.
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