Election 2022 Vermont Senate

U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt.

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White House officials and U.S. Rep. Peter Welch announced Friday that Vermont will receive $45.5 million to help low- and moderate-income families pay for home heating this winter and cover their rent and utility costs, twice the amount received last year and by far the largest such appropriation since the program was created in 1981.

Gene Sperling, White House American Rescue Plan coordinator, Welch, D-Vt., and several other members of the New England congressional delegation discussed the increased funding at a press conference held via Zoom on Friday. Sperling said funding for LIHEAP, the home heating program, more than doubled this year, with cold-weather states like Vermont receiving the largest increases. A total of roughly $8 billion was approved for the program, an increase of $4.5 billion.

The additional money is part of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, the coronavirus funding program.

Sperling said just under $2.9 billion will help 665,000 families across the country cover back rental arrears and utility costs through the federal emergency rental assistance program.

Welch said Vermont’s share will be crucial for helping about 39,000 households pay the bills this winter. He said one in three families struggle to afford heat, noting that there are homes where it’s cold enough that residents can see their breath inside. “It’s cold here in Vermont now.”

He said that despite Vermont’s high vaccination rate, COVID-19 cases are increasing sharply, putting additional stress on families. The increased heating and rental aid will help alleviate some of that pressure by ensuring they don’t have to worry about whether to pay for heat, rent and food.

The additional assistance, Welch said, “comes at a time when the margin within a family, both economically and emotionally … this is a moment when the need is especially great.”

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“It is really important to emphasize the progress that is being made, because COVID is wearing us down, and it is really tough,” Welch said. “We’ve got to hang in there.”

He said he and fellow New England lawmakers will fight for additional funding for next year, as well.

“High prices mean the set amount of LIHEAP money doesn’t go far enough,” Welch said.

A portion of the money went to states last March; the remainder was sent in November. The additional dollars come as electricity and natural gas prices are 11 percent higher than a year ago, and residential heating oil prices are up about 40 percent, according to The Associated Press.

Sperling said states are now having to decide whether to spread the money among more recipients, or give more to a fewer number of households.

Others at the press conference were Rep. Katherine Clark of Massachusetts and Rep. Chris Pappas of New Hampshire.


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