Federal spending makes more energy assistance available

Low-income residents who are sheltering in place will get more money to stay comfortable as temperatures transition to summer heat.

The Trump administration released $37 million in home energy assistance funding that was replenished after being diverted to fight the coronavirus. And another $900 million for the federal program is included in the stimulus funding signed into law by President Donald Trump.

The $37 million released this week is enough to help about 75,000 low-income families this year, and the $900 million will be enough to help about 3 million families when the funding becomes available, said Mark Wolfe, of the National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association.

“Due to the depth of the crisis, this funding only scratches the surface of what families will need to stay afloat,” he said.

Sens. Jack Reed, D-Rhode Island, and Susan Collins, R-Maine, urged the Department of Health and Human Services in a letter to release the stimulus funding immediately to help people struggling with their bills.

“As the economic impact of the coronavirus spreads, it will disproportionately hit low-wage workers who often live paycheck to paycheck,” they wrote.

Some of the money will be used immediately to help families pay their utility bills at a time when millions are filing for unemployment. But states have until the end of fiscal 2021 to use the stimulus money.

Members of Congress have been protective of the energy assistance program, rejecting the Trump administration’s efforts to eliminate it.

All told, the $3.74 billion Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program has served about 6 million households in recent years.

The program is especially important in the Northeast, where states are more reliant on oil to heat homes. The program also helps warm-weather states keep people cool in the summer.

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