Maine's senators push Trump to cough up cash for heating assistance

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After turning back President Donald Trump’s bid to eliminate heating assistance for low-income families, Maine’s two senators are calling on the administration to release funding for the program as quickly as possible.

“Access to affordable home energy is a matter of health and safety for many low-income households, children, and seniors in Maine,” Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins said in a prepared statement.

Collins and Rhode Island Democrat Jack Reed pushed to maintain the program’s $3.39 billion funding in the upcoming budget, putting together a bipartisan coalition of senators to ensure the program’s survival.

A letter cosigned by Reed, Collins and 37 other senators, including U.S. Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent, calls on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to release the money to states “quickly and at as high of a level as possible.”

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“This funding has been an indispensable lifeline during challenging economic times, helping to ensure that recipients do not have to choose between paying their energy bills and paying for other necessities like food or medicine,” the senators wrote to Tom Price, the department’s commissioner.

They pointed out that “on average, low-income families and seniors spend a higher proportion of their income on energy, and for many states, October marks the start of the heating season, creating an additional constraint on these household budgets.”

About six million households across the country receive heating assistance. More than 77,000 people in Maine receive aid — and many more are eligible.

The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program provides money to low-income homeowners and renters to help pay heating costs, with the money distributed in Maine by 11 community action programs. Lewiston is second only to Bangor in receiving funds for its residents.

To qualify for help, a single person living alone has to make $17,820 or less annually. For a family of four, the threshold for assistance is $36,450.

Trump sought to eliminate the heating assistance program because as part of a wide-ranging plan to slash federal spending. In his preliminary request, he said that “compared to other income support programs that serve similar populations, LIHEAP is a lower-impact program and is unable to demonstrate strong performance outcomes.”

But congressional appropriations panels have made clear they have no intention of going along with the recommendation to end the program, which is especially popular in northern states.

Both the House and Senate are poised to renew the program’s funding at this year’s level. They have not, however, passed a final budget that would lock in the spending.

scollins@sunjournal.com

U.S. Sens. Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Susan Collins, R-Me.

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