Rep. McCarthy gives her opening statement at a U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and Labor Subcommittee on Healthy Families and Communities hearing concerning the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.
I want to thank everyone here for coming.
We will be discussing a very serious issue facing our low-income families. With energy costs consistently on the rise, more and more families must make the tough decision on whether to heat their homes or put food on the table.
This morning, I met with a group from Island Harvest, which feeds our poor on the island. I know everybody thinks Long Islanders are very wealthy people, but we have a large population of homeless, and besides our veterans, we have more and more people who are homeless today.
I think that concerns me the most, is the children. If they cannot afford to have heat in their homes, that means they most likely do not have food on their plates, and I think that is something, speaking as a nurse--no heat, no food--we are going to end up seeing these children and our elderly and our disabled in hospitals, which is going to end up costing more money. This is a decision that no one should ever be forced to make.
Unfortunately, heating costs will only increase as we enter into the winter months. Oil is trading at nearly $100 per barrel, even though in the last couple of days we have seen it come down, but it is fluctuating. And the prices of other heating sources, such as natural gas, propane and electricity, have all increased by record number, according to the Energy Information Administration. These increased costs make it extremely difficult for low-income families to heat their homes, placing their families and loved ones in harm's way.
That is why the federal government created the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP. This great program has been helping low-income families heat their homes since 1981. Currently, over 5 million households receive LIHEAP assistance. That is people that are receiving the assistance. Those that do not even apply are probably making the numbers even larger.
Just last week, the House passed language in the Labor-HHS appropriations bill to provide $2.4 billion for the LIHEAP program. Unfortunately, we saw President Bush veto this vital legislation just today, placing the health and wellbeing of millions of families at risk this winter.
Studies have shown that the energy burden on low-income families is much higher than wealthier families. According to the American Gas Association and the Department of Health and Human Services, low-income families spend nearly 20 percent of their income on heating and cooling costs, compared to 7 percent for standard households. It is clear our nation's low-income families spend a much greater portion of their income on heating and cooling costs, and they deserve and need assistance from the federal government.
There are things that can be done to reduce the monthly energy bills at home. To be very honest with you, this morning, before I flew down here, I pulled out every single plug in my house--every single plug. I turn the TVs off. I turn my computer off. I pull everything out. And the house right now is set at 54 degrees. And let us hope my pipes do not burst.
But I have been doing this for a number of years. Being that I am not there for 5 days a week, I figure I can cut down on energy just doing my small part. But I am not there. What happens to the families that are living there and have the high costs?
I also check to make sure I have not left any lights on that are not being used and turn my heat off when I am not at home. And I guess I grew up--you know, my mom and dad went through the depression years--and when you walk through a room, you turn the light off. I was taught that as a child. I think a lot of people have forgotten that.
And we also must also work to develop clean and renewable and cost-efficient fuel to put an end to the energy crunch in this nation.
We will hear from a panel of experts today who will offer their views on the LIHEAP program and provide this subcommittee with ideas and suggestions to improve the delivery of this program.