White House Gives More Help for Winter Heat, Utility Bills

White House Gives More Help for Winter Heat, Utility Bills

The Biden administration is taking steps to help distribute several billion dollars in winter heating aid and utility bills, an unprecedented amount that comes largely from the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package.

The package provided an additional $4.5 billion for the government’s low-income home energy assistance program, which is typically funded at $3 billion to $4 billion annually. Tenant assistance can also cover utility costs, while funds to state, local, and tribal governments can help families facing high heating bills that do not qualify for other programs.

“It’s another example where the US bailout included extra precautions to ensure we were prepared,” said Gene Sperling, who oversees coronavirus relief operations at the White House. “These new programs and funding are designed to ensure that if the weather gets colder or prices go up, we will have the highest resources ever to help as many hard-pressed families as possible.”

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The White House sent out invitations for a call Thursday afternoon with representatives from the governor’s offices to discuss ways to distribute funds and coordinate across programs. Speakers on the call included Sperling, Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm, Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra and the governors of Connecticut, Maine and Michigan.

Help create cushioning that cushions the shock of rising energy costs before winter. Republican lawmakers said the relief package, which became law in March, caused inflation to soar, with prices in October up 6.2% from a year earlier.

“Democrat inflation acts as a severely punitive tax on American families who cannot afford it, and is the opposite of a high-class problem,” Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said in a speech on Wednesday.

But in this case, spending from the aid package is already helping insulate millions of families from higher utility bills. The Urban Institute estimates based on a Census Bureau survey that a third of families used the monthly payments from the Extended Child Tax Credit to pay utility bills between July and October 2021.

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Electricity and natural gas prices are nearly 11% higher than they were a year ago, according to the Labor Department’s Consumer Price Index. Heating oil prices have more than doubled over the past year, according to the Energy Information Administration.

The administration is also calling on utility and energy companies to use available government resources to protect their most vulnerable customers. DTE Energy, Eversource, National Grid and NorthWestern Energy have already agreed to identify and notify eligible recipients and ensure that customers seeking assistance are not closed out.

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