By Sen. Susan M. Collins
A recent report that inflation has hit a 30-year high confirmed what the American people have been feeling in their wallets for months. The soaring cost of virtually everything, from gasoline to groceries, is a growing crisis that affects families across our nation.
One of the most alarming increases is in the cost of heating oil, which is up by approximately 60 percent nationally from this time last year. I have heard from many Mainers who are worried that they will not be able to afford to heat their homes given this increase. The average price of heating oil in Maine currently is $3.16/gallon, compared to $2.11/gallon this time last year.
Unfortunately, the cost is expected to rise. The U.S. Energy Information Administration is predicting that families that heat primarily with propane, natural gas or heating oil could spend significantly more on their heating costs this winter, including spending up to 94 percent more for households that use propane.
While the amount of heating oil a household uses varies greatly, a typical Maine household will spend nearly $1,000 more this year on home heating oil. This is a 50 percent increase from last year. Maine is disproportionally affected by this rise in cost since 60 percent of Maine’s households use fuel oil as their primary energy source for home heating, compared to only four percent of households nationally.
I have long championed the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program that helps low-income families pay their energy bills. Maine was awarded more than $35 million in LIHEAP funding in early November. Given the current state of energy markets and the lingering economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic – and in preparation for the cold weather season – I am pleased that this funding appropriated by Congress has been distributed.
Nationwide, an estimated 5.3 million households received assistance with heating and cooling costs through LIHEAP in 2020, including 33,000 households in Maine. This federal funding is particularly critical this year given that the average cost of home heating will be unaffordable for so many low-income American households.
In addition to supporting LIHEAP, I continue to advocate for improving energy efficiency to permanently reduce heating costs. Earlier this year, I introduced the bipartisan Home Energy Savings Act to encourage energy-efficient improvements for homes. This bill would help lower energy costs as well as carbon emissions by expanding and extending a tax credit.
As one of the 10 Senators who negotiated the bipartisan infrastructure package that was signed into law in November, I advocated for the inclusion of $3.5 billion for the Weatherization Assistance Program. This bill funds energy efficiency upgrades for the homes of low-income families to help them reduce their energy bills. For every dollar invested by the Weatherization Assistance Program, $4.50 is generated in combined energy savings and non-energy benefits such as job creation.
I have also taken other actions to address the skyrocketing cost of energy. These include leading a bipartisan letter to President Biden urging his administration to increase domestic energy production as well as to release inventory from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and the Northeast Home Heating Oil Reserve. Furthermore, I have opposed the administration’s policies that have exacerbated energy supply issues, such as shutting down a key pipeline project to bring oil from Canada to the United States.
Families and seniors should not have to make the impossible choice between paying for heat and paying for food or medicine. I will continue to work to alleviate the serious hardships many Mainers may experience this winter.
Susan Collins is Maine’s senior U.S. senator.