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LIHEAP helps heat Maine homes this winter

U.S. Senator Olympia J. Snowe

(r-maine)

With each winter storm that blows through the state, each and every Mainer is reminded how vital it is to have access to an affordable home heating source.

Yet that basic life necessity is all too often inaccessible for individuals and families who continue to struggle during these challenging economic times. This is precisely why I couldn’t be more pleased that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced this month that Maine will receive $23 million more than expected in Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) funding this year.

LIHEAP is a federal block grant program that provides states with annual funding to operate home energy assistance programs for seniors and low-income households. Due to elevated prices of energy and high unemployment levels, for the last two years I have led efforts with Senator Reed of Rhode Island to secure $5.1 billion annually for LIHEAP to help more than 8.8 million low-income households nationwide—63,000 in Maine alone.

With these additional funds, Maine is now expected to receive a total of roughly $51 million, following what could have been a 40 percent cut from last year. Currently, with the economy still sputtering, LIHEAP applications are expected to jump again this year as more than 10 million American households are expected to require help with winter energy bills.

In fact, it was another energy crisis—back in 1979 and 1980—that prompted the creation of the LIHEAP program, as I well recall from my first days in the House of Representatives. I worked with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to create this safety net for the most vulnerable among us. And that’s who LIHEAP is for: our most vulnerable.

Let me be clear, if we want to provide timely, genuine relief to Americans and to jump-start our economy, we must invest in energy relief for Americans. With heating oil prices more than 12 percent higher than last year and Maine’s unemployment rate at 7.3 percent, the LIHEAP program will be the only means for thousands of Mainers to stay warm during these winter months.

Heating is not a luxury; it is a necessity. LIHEAP, a program that I have supported my entire Congressional career, often serves as the only means to guarantee home heating.

Increased heating expenses could exacerbate the economic storm weathered by families and businesses throughout Maine this year, and it is crucial that Mainers move forward with energy efficiency improvements. The short-term Energy Outlook by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), released in October 2010, estimated households heating primarily with heating oil will spend an average of about $220 (12 percent) more this winter.

In conjunction with my work on LIHEAP, I have also spearheaded the effort to provide weatherization funding as well as tax credits for investments in energy efficient windows, doors, insulation, and furnaces.

It is critical to know the helpful resources available, including tax credits and financial assistance, to help hard-working families and seniors improve the energy efficiency of their homes during these cold winter months. For details on federal energy efficiency tax credits, visit www.energystar.gov. Additionally, information regarding state rebates for energy efficiency can be found at www.efficiencymaine.com.

LIHEAP agency contacts:

Androscoggin and Oxford Counties: Community Concepts, Inc. (743-7716)

Cumberland County: Peoples Regional Opportunity Program (874-1140; 800-698-4955)

Franklin County: Western Maine Community Action (645-3764; 800-645-9363)

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