WASHINGTON (AP) – Federal aid to help the poor cope with energy costs will increase by $1 billion to more than $3 billion this year under legislation approved yesterday.
The House approved the proposal by a 287-128 vote, sending the measure to President Bush. He is expected to sign it. The House vote came a week after the Senate approved the additional money for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.
In Michigan, winter energy costs have increased by an average of 37 percent, according to the governor’s office. In early winter, the state estimated that its applications for heating assistance would increase by nearly 40,000 households.
The current budget would have left Michigan’s program with a shortfall of about $65 million. The funding approved by the House could provide about $25 million in more funding.
Proponents of the new spending, led by Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, say the program’s budget fails to meet the needs of the poor, especially given soaring heating and cooling costs.
It took months to get the legislation through Congress, in part because of resistance from fiscal conservatives opposed to new spending and from lawmakers from warm weather states who contend that the program favors cold weather regions.
“It’s been a long and difficult road, but today marks a great victory for many families in Maine and across the country who are struggling to keep warm,” Snowe said in a statement.
“It is unfortunate that funding for LIHEAP has remained constant over the years while heating costs have soared,” said Rep. John Dingell, D-Dearborn. “Even with these new funds, many families will have a hard time paying their heating bills this winter.”
Snowe noted that while the program’s spending has remained relatively flat in recent years, the average household heating oil expenditure has more than doubled to $1,474 since 2001, and natural gas costs have gone from $465 to $1,000.
She said the program’s buying power for a household’s annual heating oil cost has gone from 50 percent to 19 percent in that period.
The $1 billion, on top of $2.1 billion already allotted for the current budget year, was obtained by transferring money originally intended for the budget year that begins Oct. 1.