Menendez:  We Cannot Leave NJ Seniors, Families Out in the Cold This Winter

Sen. Bob Menendez

Sen. Bob Menendez

WASHINGTON, DC – With the federal government on the verge of a potential shutdown, New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez and a bipartisan group of Senators are working to ensure that low-income Americans who need heating assistance this winter are not left out in the cold by restoring vital federal heating assistance funds.

In a letter to Senate leaders, Menendez and his colleagues urged a level of $3.47 billion for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) in the continuing resolution (CR) to fund the government past Sept. 30.  Without this fix, the program could be reduced to as little as $2.82 billion during the cold winter months ahead.

“LIHEAP is literally a lifeline for hundreds of thousands of New Jersey seniors, people with disabilities and families already struggling to make ends meet and simply cannot afford the rising costs of heating their homes this winter,” said Menendez.  “We know LIHEAP is effective and we cannot allow our most vulnerable residents to be left out in the cold as Congress prepares this short term budget.”

In their letter the Senators wrote: “In order to prevent added uncertainty and a decrease in the amount of funding available for grant awards compared to last year, we ask that you include language in the continuing resolution specifically directing the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to release the full amount of each state’s LIHEAP allocation at the fiscal year 2012 level. This would follow past precedent. The fiscal year 2013 Continuing Appropriations Act enacted in March extended fiscal year 2012 funding through September 30th and directed HHS to distribute funds under the same formula. We believe that the continued economic challenges, seasonality of the LIHEAP program, and anticipated length of the upcoming continuing resolution necessitates this specific stipulation for LIHEAP once again.”

In recent years, the struggling U.S. economy and still high energy prices have caused record numbers of Americans to apply for home heating assistance and the number of households eligible for the program continues to surpass those able to receive assistance.

Over the years, President Obama has proposed significant reductions to LIHEAP.  This year, the President’s budget requested $2.97 billion for LIHEAP.  Nevertheless, in August, members of the Appropriations Committee successfully increased LIHEAP funding in the FY 2014 Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations bill to a total of $3.61 billion.

Eligibility for LIHEAP is based on income, family size, and the availability of resources.  LIHEAP assists qualified families with their home energy needs, such as heating in the winter, cooling their homes in the summer, and insulating their homes to make them more efficient and reduce their energy costs.   According to the Campaign for Home Energy Assistance, more than 300,000 households in New Jersey received heating assistance last winter with an allocation of more than $136 million.

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