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Connecticut lawmakers help boost low-income home energy program

As plows continue throughout the day, visibility remains low.
Tyler Russell
Connecticut Public
The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program will receive a $1 billion boost through Congress' bill to fund the federal government.

A program that helps low-income households pay for home energy costs will get a $1 billion infusion in Congress’ short-term bill to fund the federal government as Connecticut and the New England region brace for high heating prices this winter.

Lawmakers in Washington and Connecticut had been pressing for more immediate funding for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, also known as LIHEAP, instead of waiting for a boost that is expected at the end of the year. LIHEAP funds the Connecticut Energy Assistance Program, which opened up its application period on Sept. 1 for the upcoming winter season.

Households are eligible if they have an income at or below 60% of the state median income. For a family of four, that median income is around $76,400. Those who qualify can receive between $100 and $600 based on income, household size and if that household has a vulnerable member.

Nineteen members of New England’s House delegation, including Reps. Joe Courtney, Jahana Hayes and Jim Himes from Connecticut, recently urged congressional appropriators to insert $1 billion for it in the short-term bill, also referred to as a continuing resolution. The allocation of LIHEAP funding is twice the amount that was requested by the Biden administration.

“Strengthening LIHEAP is the best and most direct way to provide people with support to lower their home energy costs, and under new guidelines there are more households than ever that now qualify for the assistance,” Courtney, D-2nd District, said in a statement. “Glad to see that our effort to strengthen LIHEAP has been successful so far. We’re going to keep working in a bipartisan fashion until it becomes final.”

The continuing resolution, which was released early Tuesday, will keep the government running on existing funding levels through Dec. 16. That gives Congress more time to pass the annual omnibus appropriations package for fiscal year 2023, which includes a proposed $4 billion for the home energy program.

In addition to LIHEAP funding, the bill will also include more assistance for Ukraine to combat the ongoing Russian invasion and a controversial measure from Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., that reforms how permits are approved for energy projects.

But the latter could threaten swift passage of the bill and raise the chances of a government shutdown if Congress does not pass the short-term legislation before the end of Friday.

The process to pass the continuing resolution will start in the Senate on Tuesday as lawmakers take a procedural vote to try to clear a filibuster. It is unclear if they have the votes because of bipartisan resistance to Manchin’s permitting proposal. But once it clears the Senate, the House will take it up before it can go to President Joe Biden for his signature.

Funding for LIHEAP has consistently been a major priority for members of both parties across the Northeast since the area bears the brunt of high heating costs during the winter.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, inventories on the East Coast are well below the seasonal five-year average for gas and distillates. For home heating oil costs specifically in Connecticut, the average price for the week of Sept. 12 was $4.79 a gallon.

Connecticut received nearly $160 million in LIHEAP funding through the federal pandemic relief package, the American Rescue Plan, which was set to phase out this month. Congress’ last appropriations bill provided $3.8 billion in total LIHEAP funding, with about $73 million of that going to Connecticut.

The effort to get immediate LIHEAP funding also got major attention back in Connecticut and New England.

Connecticut Republicans have been calling for a special session to pass legislation that will boost the program through unused money allocated through the American Rescue Plan.

Gov. Ned Lamont and Democrats argued that Republicans are playing politics on the issue and said the calls were “premature” since time remains for the federal government to replenish those funds. On Monday, Lamont was one of six New England governors calling for at least $500 million in LIHEAP funds to be included in the continuing resolution.

The Democratic chairs of the Appropriations Committee in the Connecticut General Assembly made a similar push, urging the state’s congressional delegation to help secure higher levels of funding.

While lawmakers are celebrating the inclusion of LIHEAP, some Democrats in Congress wanted the legislation to go further with additional money to help combat COVID-19 and the monkeypox outbreak. But that aid got left out as Republicans pointed to Biden’s comments last week on CBS’ “60 Minutes” that the pandemic is “over.”

As chairwoman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, plays a major role in helping to craft legislation that funds all government agencies, especially as they enter the final stretch to pass the larger appropriations bill in December.

“This continuing resolution reflects bipartisan, bicameral negotiations and, most importantly, it affords Congress time to complete its work on fiscal year 2023. While the bill provides a bridge to the omnibus, it is not perfect,” DeLauro said in a statement. “I am saddened the continuing resolution does not fully rise to meet some of our country’s most urgent needs, including the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and monkeypox outbreak.”

Lisa Hagen is CT Public and CT Mirror’s shared Federal Policy Reporter. Based in Washington, D.C., she focuses on the impact of federal policy in Connecticut and covers the state’s congressional delegation. Lisa previously covered national politics and campaigns for U.S. News & World Report, The Hill and National Journal’s Hotline.

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