White House highlights effort to cover winter heating bills

Politics

FILE – President Joe Biden speaks from the East Room of the White House in Washington, Dec. 6, 2021. The Biden administration is distributing an additional $4.5 billion in funds to help low-income Americans cover heating costs during a second pandemic winter, with cold-weather states receiving the largest share. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, FIle)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration is distributing an additional $4.5 billion in funds to help low-income Americans cover heating costs during a second pandemic winter, with cold-weather states receiving the largest share, according to a state-by-state breakdown released Friday.

The funding boost — part of last year’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan coronavirus relief package — more than doubled the normal funding level of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP. These funds represent the largest appropriation in a single year since the program was established in 1981.

The Associated Press obtained an advance copy of the state allocation breakdown, which shows a clear prioritization of cold-weather states with higher heating costs. For example, Minnesota received nearly $274 million in home energy assistance for needy residents. Meanwhile, Texas, which has a population five times larger, received just $10 million more. New York state, with a population of less than 20 million people compared with Texas’ 29 million, received just under $876 million.

President Joe Biden’s administration also announced commitments from seven major utility companies across the country to guarantee no shutoffs for customers seeking assistance and to identify and notify recipients eligible for government aid.

The fresh commitments, announced Friday morning, come from Atlantic City Electric, Baltimore Gas and Electric, ComEd, Delmarva Power, Pacific Gas & Electric, PECO and Pepco. They join seven other major utility companies that made similar pledges late last year.

Electricity and natural gas prices are roughly 11% higher than a year ago, according to the Labor Department’s consumer price index. Residential heating oil prices are up about 40% from a year ago, according to the Energy Information Administration. The extent of the increase has moderated in recent months as wholesale heating oil prices are roughly where they were at the start of October.

The aid is meant to help cushion the shock of higher winter energy costs. But Republican lawmakers have said the overall relief package, which was signed into law by the Democratic president in March, has caused higher levels of inflation by pumping too much money into the economy.

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Associated Press writer Josh Boak contributed to this report.

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