As Fuel Prices Continue To Skyrocket, Key Panel Okays Leahy Amendment Directing Bush Administration To Release $120 Million In Emergency Home Heating Relief

The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee Thursday afternoon approved an amendment by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to direct the Bush Administration to release $120 million in emergency home heating assistance funds.  

Leahy, a senior member of the committee, added the amendment to the annual budget bill for the Department of Health and Human Services and other federal agencies.  The bill now goes to the full Senate for action.  The Leahy amendment would require the Bush Administration upon enactment to release the $120 million from reserves already approved by Congress for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).  The funds then would be distributed to Vermont and other states, which could use the money for Vermonters’ needs this winter.  

“There’s a collision ahead between soaring energy prices and the shortfall in LIHEAP funds that struggling families need to help heat their homes,” said Leahy.  “Like a pig in a python we can see what’s coming down the pipeline.  We cannot afford to miss any opportunity to soften the collision, and this is the first step.”

He noted that families in cold weather states like Vermont already are hard pressed as they begin preparing for next winter.  In its most recent Short-Term Energy Outlook, the Energy Department’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) predicted that the cost of home heating oil will increase more than 41 percent from the 4th quarter of 2007 to the 4th quarter of 2008.  That increase comes on top of the 162 percent increase in heating oil prices that has occurred since President Bush took office (between January 2000 and March 2008.)

Even with Americans each week facing new record gas, oil and electricity prices, the Administration has refused to release these LIHEAP funds that Congress has already provided. 

Leahy said that many Vermont families, recognizing that prices will continue to rise, are trying to be prudent by locking in lower fuel prices, but even now they cannot afford those payments.  If prices continue to escalate this winter, the burden will be even greater. 

Thursday’s strong showing for the Leahy Amendment already is sending a strong signal to the Bush Administration about the looming crisis and Congress’s intent to avert it.  Leahy said this is the first of a series of efforts that will be needed, and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) and others are also working on other steps.

The bill also includes a new infusion of $2.57 billion for the LIHEAP program for the upcoming fiscal year, $500 million more than proposed by President Bush.

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