Faced with inflated natural gas prices, Missouri’s top regulator has called on the state’s congressional delegation to seek additional federal low-income energy assistance dollars for Missouri families in need.

“As the House Appropriations Committee marks up the president’s fiscal year 2005 budget proposal, I urge you to seriously evaluate the subcommittee recommendations for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and the Weatherization Assistance Program,” wrote Steve Gaw, chairman of the Missouri Public Service Commission, in a letter to Missouri lawmakers.

The House Appropriations’ subcommittee has recommended $1.9 billion for “regular” LIHEAP block grants to states, $100 million for contingency funding, and $227 million for the weatherization program in fiscal year 2005.

The subcommittee’s recommendation is approximately $111 million more than the funding enacted for the current fiscal year, but it is $64.7 million less than the president’s request for fiscal year 2005, Gaw said. He urged the House Appropriations Committee to boost the LIHEAP level to $3 billion, mirroring the amount the Senate already has approved.

Citing the escalating costs of natural gas, Gaw noted that “in just the past two years, many customers have seen their heating bills increase by more than 25%, and during the winter of 2003-2004, there was a dramatic increase in the number of Missourians seeking energy assistance for the first time.”

But “paying the bills on the ‘back end’…is not enough,” Gaw said. “Current natural gas futures prices and reports by consultants predict that prices will be higher for years to come, and we must do more to support weatherization and other energy-efficiency measures.” These prevention strategies will help reduce energy use and cost over the long run, he noted.

LIHEAP, federally funded and administered by the states, provides financial assistance to approximately 158,000 Missouri households

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