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Susan Collins, Jared Golden call for another $500M in federal heating assistance

A heating oil delivery truck travels down a road in South Portland, Maine, Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018.
Robert F. Bukaty
AP file
A heating oil delivery truck travels down a road in South Portland, Maine, Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018.

Republican Sen. Susan Collins and Democratic Congressman Jared Golden are calling for an additional $500 million in low-income heating assistance in the next federal funding bill for the coming fiscal year.

Collins and Golden are backing a bipartisan effort to boost funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, also known as LIHEAP, to $4 billion in the appropriations bill Congress is currently considering.

In a joint statement they say that the additional request is spurred by the rising cost of heating fuels and spiking electricity prices, which are set to increase in Maine on Jan. 1.

The bipartisan push comes less than a week after Republicans in the Maine Senate blocked a nearly half-billion dollar emergency heating billfrom Democratic Gov. Janet Mills that would have provided a $50 million state subsidy to LIHEAP, as well as direct relief payments to Maine households.

In explaining that vote, Republican Senate leader Trey Stewart wrote in a recent column that LIHEAP was already funded through July of next year.

But Collins and Golden argue that higher prices mean LIHEAP's current funding is providing less assistance to fewer people.

"While we recognize the competing priorities you must balance, the number of households eligible for LIHEAP assistance continues to exceed available funding,” the bipartisan group in Congress wrote in a letter sent to congressional budget writers and co-signed by Collins and Golden.

"Meanwhile, the average cost of heating oil is nearly 70 percent higher than last year and natural gas is 20 percent higher, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. As these prices go up, the purchasing power of LIHEAP’s appropriations goes down. This leaves states in the position of making tough choices about the amount of assistance they will provide and the number of people they will serve with the limited funding available. Ensuring that LIHEAP is well-funded will help guarantee that the program has the resources it needs to help as many eligible, low-income households and seniors as possible."

Journalist Steve Mistler is Maine Public’s chief politics and government correspondent. He is based at the State House.