White House orders release of $200 million in heating aid

Saturday, January 25, 2003

WASHINGTON -- President Bush on Friday ordered the release of $200 million to a federal home heating aid program to help millions of low-income people pay their heating bills.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the money would help such individuals "respond to the rising cost of home heating oil, particularly during this cold snap."

Fleischer said the president had directed the Department of Health and Human Services, which administers the program, to release the funds.

Some 4.6 million Americans will receive assistance this year under the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, Fleischer said. The $200 million brings the program's total for this heating season to $1.5 billion, he said.

Especially helpful this year

The additional funds "will prove to be especially helpful this year," Fleischer added, citing government estimates that residential home heating oil prices will be more than 20 percent higher than the average of the last five years.

"I'm just very pleased the president followed our recommendation and suggestion," Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., said in advance of the formal White House announcement. Reed led a group of northern lawmakers calling for more heating assistance.

Democrats on Capitol Hill had lobbied aggressively for the money, especially as temperatures around the country have dropped precipitously in the past two weeks.

Most of program's beneficiaries are low-income families and seniors.

The program will send $36.7 million to New York, $16.5 million to Pennsylvania, and $12.3 million to Massachusetts. Across the country, LIHEAP benefits more than 4.6 million low-income households every year.

"This money is desperately needed," said Reed. "And it will help people tremendously."

Earlier this month, several lawmakers told the administration that half a million households could be left without heat if the White House didn't restore roughly $300 million to the program.

Lawmakers from the both the Northeast and Midwest, pointing to rising oil prices and a harsh winter, called on the White House to restore full funding.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., had warned that under earlier administration plans to cut $300 million from the program, nearly 50,000 households in New York would have lost heating aid.

Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., said the $300 million cut would have meant roughly 30,000 eligible households in his state would receive no heating assistance this year.

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