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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Home heating oil dealers on Wednesday urged Congress to put extra money in the U.S. economic stimulus package to fully fund a program that helps poor families pay their expensive winter heating bills.
The New England Fuel Institute and the Petroleum Marketer's Association of America asked lawmakers to back a proposal to add $3.6 billion to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), as part of the stimulus package that will send rebates to taxpayers to spur the economy.
"No one should have to choose between putting food on the table or staying warm," said Shane Sweet at the New England Fuel Institute.
More than 150 representatives from community action groups and utilities across the country went to Capitol Hill this week to push for more funding.
If the extra money is included in the stimulus package, LIHEAP funds would total $5.1 billion for this year, plus an additional $500 million in contingency funds.
With prices forecast to be up for all heating fuels this winter and home foreclosures at record levels, the poor will need assistance more than ever, the groups maintained.
Low-income families spend on average about 15 percent of their income on home energy bills, compared to 3.4 percent for all other households.
The Energy Department forecasts that households using heating oil and propane will suffer the most, spending an average 38 percent, or $551, more for heating oil this winter than last winter, with propane costs expected to be 25 percent, or $342, higher.
LIHEAP also would help pay for cooling bills this summer.
The American Gas Association on Wednesday also called for the Senate to support the funding proposal, which is sponsored by Democrat Jack Reed of Rhode Island and Republican Susan Collins of Maine.
"Increasing funding will immediately get resources out to desperately poor Americans attempting to deal with historically high energy costs and significant economic pressures," said AGA Chairman David McClanahan.
Meanwhile, a new report released by Entergy Corp shows that LIHEAP helps to stimulate the U.S. economy, as each dollar put into the program generates $5.37 of economic activity.
LIHEAP assistance gave low-income families more money to buy other essentials, according to the report. As a result, every $1 million added to LIHEAP creates 94 jobs nationally.
Reporting by Tom Doggett; Editing by Russell Blinch and David Gregorio