The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced the release Tuesday of $79.9 million in energy assistance funds for 14 states as part of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) program, which helps eligible families in certain states pay for heating in the fall and winter months. The funds are targeted to states in which low-income households make greatest use of fuel oil to heat their homes.

“This assistance will help states prepare for heating costs this fall and winter,” said HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt. “With this funding, the Bush Administration is helping those in need by ensuring their homes are kept warm during the winter months.”

HHS previously released $600 million in assistance to states this past winter to address record high heating fuel costs. The additional funds released today result in a total of $3.1 billion made available under LIHEAP this year.

American Gas Association President David Parker wrote to the president in July to urge him to release all remaining emergency LIHEAP funds because of high energy costs this year.

“A cold winter, combined with higher home heating bills could force those who are the most vulnerable to make tough choices between heating their homes and paying their other bills,” Parker said. “It’s critical that Congress fund LIHEAP at a higher level so fewer families are forced into this untenable situation.”

Almost five million low-income households across the country receive LIHEAP assistance each year. However, 33 million American households have incomes that make them eligible for the program.

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