“It is absolutely vital federal funding for the LIHEAP program is released well in advance of winter so Maine’s agencies have the time necessary to make allotments to our Mainers most in need,” Snowe said in a statement Thursday. “I strongly urge Secretary Sebelius to release these funds as quickly as possible to ensure Maine families can heat their homes during the approaching cold months.” 

Congress passed LIHEAP to help families mostly in northern states pay for heating expenses as fuel and gas prices started to rise. LIHEAP eligibility is based on income, family size and the availability of resources.

“LIHEAP helps families in need keep the heat on during the cold winter months,” Reed said. “With winter approaching it is critical to quickly get this assistance out to ensure seniors and low-income families do not get left out in the cold.”

The letter came a day after the U.S. Energy Information Administration released its Winter Fuels Outlook report, which stated that the average expenditures for households that heat with heating oil are forecast to be higher than any previous winter on record.

“The ongoing difficult economic climate and elevated levels of unemployment across our states continue to add to the challenges facing our least fortunate this heating season,” the letter stated. “As the relevant state agencies begin to provide assistance for this winter, it is critical that they have the resources to assist low-income households as soon as possible. Therefore, we request that you quickly release these funds and at as high of a level as possible in order to allow states and low-income households to prepare for the upcoming season.”

The 38 senators who also signed the letter were from states that experience the harshest winter weather.