Americans to Get Help This Winter With Heating, Utility Bills as Part of Relief Package

The Biden Administration said they will distribute billions of dollars to help Americans with their heating and utility bills this winter.

The Associated Press reported that the money will come from the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, or American Rescue Plan. The package will provide $4.5 billion for Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, a significant increase from its usual $3-4 billion annual funding.

This program is meant to help people in state, local and tribal communities faced with high heating bills this winter who might not have access to or be eligible for other programs.

Electricity and natural gas prices are approximately 11 percent higher than last year, according to the Labor Department's consumer price index. And the Energy Information Administration reported heating oil prices have more than doubled.

Gene Sperling, who is overseeing the implementation of the American Rescue Plan, told the AP the plan was made to account for these kinds of issues.

"It's another example of where the American Rescue Plan included extra precautions to ensure we would be prepared," Sperling said. "These new programs and funding were designed to ensure that if the weather was colder or the prices were higher, we would have the highest resources ever to help as many hard-pressed families as possible."

For more reporting from The Associated Press, see below:

Joe Biden, president, United States
The Biden Administration announced it would dedicate billions of dollars from the American Rescue Plan to help people pay their heating and utility bills this winter. Above, President Joe Biden speaks during a visit to the General Motors Factory ZERO electric vehicle assembly plant on November 17 in Detroit. Evan Vucci/AP Photo

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

The aid helps to create a cushion that limits the shock of higher energy costs ahead of winter. Republican lawmakers have said the relief package, which became law in March, caused higher levels of inflation, with prices in October 6.2 percent higher than a year ago. The GOP argument is that the Biden relief package sent too much money into the economy, sending prices up and hurting middle-class and lower-income families.

"The Democrats' inflation is functioning like an ultra-punitive tax on the American families who can least afford it," Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said Wednesday.

But in this instance, the spending from the aid package is already helping to insulate millions of households from higher utility bills and reducing strains on household budgets. Estimates by the Urban Institute based off a Census Bureau survey indicate that a third of families used the monthly payments from the expanded child tax credit to pay their utility bills between July and October 2021.

The administration is also calling on utilities and energy companies to use the available government resources to protect their most vulnerable customers. DTE Energy, Eversource, National Grid, NorthWestern Energy, Green Mountain Power, Portland General Electric, Vermont Gas, and the delivered fuel trade association NEFI have agreed to identify and notify eligible recipients and guarantee no shutoffs for customers seeking assistance.

Jennifer Granholm, Secretary of Energy
Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm is one of several government officials who spoke on a call about how to distribute money to people who need to pay their heating and utility bills this winter. Above, Granholm speaks during a clean energy event inside Port Authority Hangar 19 at JFK airport in New York on November 1. Mary Altaffer/AP Photo