Gov. John deJongh Jr. and 13 other state and territorial governors have sent an open letter to Congress urging it to maintain federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program funding unchanged, due to economic conditions and high energy costs, according to a statement from Government House.
Dated on Monday, the two-page letter expressed support for funding LIHEAP "at the $3.6 billion level provided by the Senate Appropriations Committee in its FY 2014 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill." The letter was signed by deJongh and 13 other governors representing Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, Vermont and West Virginia.
The letter outlined the importance of LIHEAP to a large number of Americans – "many of them elderly, disabled or caring for dependent children" – who could be forced to "choose between paying home energy bills and paying for food, medicine or other essentials." LIHEAP helps these individuals cover their heating costs in the winter and cooling costs in the summer.
While heating is not an issue in the territory, electricity prices in the U.S. Virgin Islands are the highest in the nation and the funding is primarily used to help low-income seniors and those with disabilities with their utility bills.
While total national funding is still being determined at the Congressional level, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services plans to triple the amount of money to the territories this year, Delegate Donna M. Christensen announced Nov. 13.
According to local authorities, LIHEAP funding to the Virgin Islands topped at roughly $200,000 several years ago but, with federal budget and sequester cuts, has been as low as $129,000.
The government of the Virgin Islands has matched those funds with about $1.5 million per year. The actual dollar figure had not yet been determined, according to Christensen’s office.
The governors closed their letter saying, "LIHEAP assistance remains an indispensable lifeline for millions of families struggling to heat and cool their homes, and we strongly urge Congress to adopt a responsible budget, which will put America on a path to continued growth and prosperity and give use the tools we need to serve our citizens."