Cantwell Fights to Keep Spokane Heating Support from Going to Other States

Cantwell Report: Proposed House plan would cut heating support for 4,000 Spokane households, compared to Senate plan In a letter sent today, Cantwell urges key committee chairman to get behind Senate plan, which maintains fair share of funding for colder-weather states like WA

SPOKANE, WA – Today, just days following the first snowfall, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) stood with Spokane seniors against a proposed plan in the U.S. House of Representatives that would result in 4,000 fewer Spokane County households receiving home heating assistance this winter, compared to a Senate plan.

Cantwell also released a Spokane County report on Saturday, detailing the impact of potential cuts on Spokane families. Under the Senate proposal, Washington would receive $69 million in LIHEAP funds, but under the House plan, the state would receive approximately $40 million—meaning Washington seniors and families in need would lose out on nearly $30 million in home heating assistance. This cut would mean approximately 41,000 Washingtonians, and 4,000 Spokane households would lose heating support. Last year, more than 100,000 Washington households received support, including 11,343 in Spokane County.

“Washingtonians should not have to choose between keeping warm or filling a life-saving prescription,” said Cantwell. “Last year, more than 11,000 households in Spokane County received crucial assistance to keep the heat on through Washington’s coldest months. But under the House plan, more than 40 percent of our state’s fair share of heating assistance would go to other states. With winter already on our doorsteps in Spokane, now is not the time to send Washington’s home heating support to warm-weather states.”

Cantwell called for passage of the Senate plan, which relies on a formula that has been used since 1984 to emphasize the needs of colder-weather states like Washington. The House and Senate plans contain similar funding levels for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), but under the House plan, northern states like Washington would experience cuts while some southern state residents would see increases. Under the House plan, warmer weather states would see increases in LIHEAP funding, including a $109 million increase in Texas and a $66 million increase in Florida. When compared to FY2011 funding levels, Washington state is among the top three states (along with Iowa and Minnesota) worst impacted by the House plan.

Cantwell sent a letter to Senators Tom Harkin and Richard Shelby, respectively the Chair and Ranking Member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies, urging passage of the Senate’s version of LIHEAP, which has already cleared the Appropriations Committee.

The need for home heating assistance in the Spokane area has risen. The Spokane Neighborhood Action Partners (SNAP), which disburses funds from the LIHEAP program to qualified households, helped roughly 11,000 households last year. Due to uncertainty in program funding levels, SNAP is projecting it will only be able to help 4,750 households this year through the LIHEAP program. The cost of heating oil is also on the rise. Households using heating oil are expected to see a 10 percent increase in their heating costs this winter, while those using natural gas and electricity for heating are expected to see about the same costs as last year.

“Even at our highest funding point, we are not able to reach the majority of the population eligible for heating assistance,” said Julie Honekamp, CEO of SNAP. “Unless this important funding is restored, residents who have relied on our assistance in the past will have to struggle through a very cold winter.”

According to a recently released report, LIHEAP recipient households are likely to have seniors, disabled members or children in the home. Over 89 percent of LIHEAP recipients had at least one of these vulnerable household members, including 40 percent of households having a senior aged 60 or older. Nearly one quarter reported that they went without food, 37 percent sacrificed medical/dental care, and one fifth had someone in the home become sick because the home was too cold. Many reported that they would have kept their home at unsafe or unhealthy temperatures (65%) and/or had their electricity or home heating fuel discontinued (63%) if it had not been for LIHEAP, according to the National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association (NEADA) report.