WASHINGTON — The U.S. House has voted to double the amount of money available in the new fiscal year for energy assistance to low-income households.
In approving a spending bill Wednesday for fiscal year 2009, which begins Oct. 1, the House included $5.1 billion for the heating assistance program. That is $2.5 billion more than this year and fully funds the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program.
The Senate was expected to act on the legislation before adjourning for the election season.
“There are too many families that are looking to winter and wondering how they are going to be able to afford keeping warm,” Democratic Rep. Mike Michaud said in a press release. The full funding, Michaud said, “is very welcome news.”
According to the Web site of Campaign for Home Energy Assistance, an advocacy organization, Maine received $37.7 million from the program in fiscal year 2008. With this increase, the state would receive $74.3 million in fiscal year 2009.
Democratic Rep. Tom Allen said eligible households would receive $550 for heating assistance, an increase of $195 from last year.
“Constituents tell me that they expect this year to pay double what they paid to heat their homes last year,” he said. “This additional assistance will mean that thousands of Maine families and seniors will not have to choose between keeping their homes warm and paying their food and medical bills.”
On Thursday the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming held a hearing on future funding for the energy assistance program.
According to the committee’s Web site, home heating oil prices are expected to reach a record $4.60 per gallon this winter, which could lead to a $4,000 heating bill for average families. At the current funding levels, the heating assistance program helps 4.5 million low-income families in the country, representing only 15 percent of eligible families.
In Maine, 49,000 families rely on the program, according to the Campaign for Home Energy Assistance. To be eligible, the family must earn no more than 150 percent of the poverty level or 60 percent of the state median income.