The American Gas Association (AGA) has called on a House Appropriations subcommittee to provide full funding for needy energy consumers when it marks up a fiscal 2007 spending bill for the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Wednesday.

“I urge you to provide the fully authorized funding level of $5.1 billion for LIHEAP [Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program] during the markup of the fiscal year 2007 Labor, HHS and Education appropriations bill,” wrote Charles H. Fritts, AGA’s vice president of government relations, to Rep. Ralph Regula (R-OH), chairman of the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Subcommittee, and Rep. David R. Obey of Wisconsin, the ranking Democrat on the panel.

The amount proposed by Regula for LIHEAP funding in fiscal 2007 won’t be disclosed until markup of the appropriations bill, which gets underway early Wednesday (June 7). The Bush administration has requested $2.78 billion for fiscal 2007, compared to $2.18 billion in the current year.

“We commend the Congress for approving an additional $1 billion for LIHEAP in fiscal year 2006, increasing total program funding to over $3 billion. This additional funding, the first substantial increase since the program was created, has provided assistance to many new fixed- and low-income households,” Fritts said.

But he noted that more funds will be needed in fiscal 2007. The AGA cited a report by the National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association, which estimated that the total number of households receiving heating assistance has increased by 12.1% to 5.7 million, the highest number in 13 years, while the number to receive cooling assistance is expected to jump to 594,441. This is 88.6% higher than last year’s level and the highest level in the history of the program, according to AGA, which represents gas utilities.

“While natural gas prices have receded in recent weeks, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecasts the respite will be ‘short-lived.’ EIA reports that concerns about potential future supply tightness and continuing pressure from high oil market prices will likely drive spot natural gas prices for the next heating season to previous highs, with the Henry Hub spot price projected to again rise to just under $11/Mcf,” Fritts told lawmakers.

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