Maine will get an additional $1.3 million in federal home energy assistance money, part of $50 million being allocated nationally to low-income assistance programs.

U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe announced the release of the money this week.

The funds help low-income families in Maine pay their heating bills. The aid comes during a harsh winter season made all the harder by record-high energy prices.

“I applaud the Bush administration for releasing this funding to help the neediest among us make ends meet and stay warm this winter,” said Snowe in a statement. “LIHEAP is crucial to the health and safety of many Mainers, providing an important measure of security and comfort for tens of thousands of households in Maine.”

The administration had already released $100 million in LIHEAP money last month. The decision to release both rounds of funding came after Snowe joined a bipartisan group of more than 40 senators who sent a letter to Bush urging him to provide emergency funding.

The Energy Information Administration’s Short-term Energy Outlook forecasts that household heating oil expenditures are expected to average 34 percent above last winter’s levels.

Expenditures for propane-heated households are expected to increase about 20 percent this winter, and expenditures for natural gas-heated households are expected to rise by 10 percent.

These increases in prices far outpace the rate of inflation and are placing an overwhelming strain on family budgets, Snowe said.

The increases also come on top of soaring energy prices over the past several years. Rising energy prices disproportionately burden low-income Americans who are also struggling to pay for higher food, housing and health care costs.

LIHEAP helps more than 4.5 million low-income families annually pay the costs of heating their homes in the winter and cooling their homes in the summer.

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