Writing and Reporting by Jake Brown
Democratic Presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton has two issues in common with her rival for the nomination: both have been U.S. Senators from Northeastern States traditionally known for their frigid winters, and both have a healthy appreciation for the assistance LIHEAP has in keeping the heat on for their collective millions of constituent families over the past 15 years.
Hillary Clinton’s vocal support for the program began back in her early years as a newly-elected U.S. Senator after witnessing first-hand how invaluable the program was throughout New York, with National Public Radio reporting in 2002 that “New York’s junior senator is calling on President Bush to restore money for low-income and elderly people’s utility bills in next year’s budget. Senator Hillary Clinton says the President’s 2003 budget would cuts New York’s Low Income Heating and Energy Assistance program by 38-millon dollars.”
In 2005, reflecting New York’s year-round demand for LIHEAP aid, as the Empire State was pummeled with record-setting heat waves, Hillary Clinton lobbied Washington top release the remaining $46.7 million dollars under an emergency contingency appropriation to help tens of thousands of needy New Yorkers buy air conditioners, arguing in a strongly worded statement of support that “in a heat wave like this, air conditioning can literally be a matter of life and death. We need to make sure that New York’s low-income seniors are not forced to choose between staying cool and safe and emptying their bank accounts. We will keep the heat on the President until he releases these emergency cooling assistance funds.”
After the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported in June of that year that New York had been hit with its warmest June on record, and the New York Independent System Operator warned that for a second consecutive week, “extreme heat and humidity have driven statewide electricity usage to record levels,” Clinton co-signed a letter alongside a bi-partisan collective of colleagues, driving home the point that the LIHEAP funds were urgently needed to provide “many low-income consumers entered this summer facing high energy debt due to the winter’s unaffordable energy prices and cold weather. The heat wave that affected the Northeast and Midwest states in June, and the current heat wave affecting the nation, is adding to these households’ energy burdens, especially low-income seniors, as they must run air-conditioning to remain cool and safe.”
In 2007, as record high fuel prices drove up energy bills throughout New York State, Senator Clinton once again came to the front page to call for the release of emergency contingency LIHEAP funding, noting that with “energy prices reaching all time highs, the emergency funding for LIHEAP…will help our most most vulnerable families in New York and across the country pay skyrocketing heating bills, this funding does not go nearly far enough to meet the need. I reiterate my call on the president to release the balance of the LIHEAP contingency fund and to fully fund LIHEAP this year and in the future so that more struggling families have access to this critical assistance…so that no one has to suffer through the frigid winter temperatures without heat.”
The next year, even with her Presidential campaign fully underway, Hillary Clinton again advocated for urgent action to raise LIHEAP funding levels, warning that “without action now, we will have a crisis on our hands this winter when low income families, seniors and other vulnerable New Yorkers are faced with heating bills they can’t afford and have nowhere to turn. High energy prices have already pushed low income families to the brink. The Bush Administration has failed to adequately prepare for this coming challenge so Congress must act to meet the need.” Seeking to double the LIHEAP appropriation to $5.1 Billion, Clinton went so far as to announce legislation in response to the funding shortages that sought an additional $250 million for New York State.
Teaming with Rep. John McHugh’s HEATR Act, her Senate companion bill, which Clinton argued would help families avoid “facing impossible choices between paying their heating bills and buying food, medicine or other necessities” courtesy of a $500 refundable tax credit for “individuals and families who spend more than $1,500 on home heating costs during the coming winter season; those who spend below $1,500 would receive a credit equal to one third of their heating costs,” according to Children’s Health Watch. Available to both home owners and renters facing frigid winters throughout New York, Clinton’s legislation additionally aimed to “boost total weatherization program funding to $750 million for FY 2008, an increase of $522.8 million, or 230%. On average, weatherization reduces heating bills by 32%.”