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Vermont to receive $3.9 million in emergency heating funds

SHELBURNE -- Senator Bernie Sanders announced last week that Vermont would receive $3.9 million in home heating emergency funds. The news came just in time, as home heating fuel prices reached record highs while temperatures nation-wide reached record lows. Shelburne Foodshelf director Val Martel, who also runs a local heating assistance program, was pleased with Sanders' announcement, but hopes that there will be more money on the way. "I appreciate what the politicians have done for us," said Martel. "But we need to keep the pressure on the government." According to Martel, the Foodshelf's assistance program has been able to heat low-income homes on a month-to-month basis. In one instance, a second organization pitched in an additional $200 to help a single mother who had been filling five-gallon tanks at a gas station to keep her home warm. It's these situations that lead Martel to question the federal government. "I think it's wonderful that we reach across borders to help others, but we need to look at our own people," she said. "I would like to see this country wake up and help their own people." According to Sanders, senate will reconvene later this month and he hopes that legislation -- backed by bipartisan support -- will increase federal funding to nearly $800 million. "The outrageously high price of home heating fuel is stretching the budgets of millions of families across the country," said Sanders. "Federal funding to help the most vulnerable people, including many seniors, is running out across Vermont. While I welcome this release of funds, the president should release $160 million remaining in the emergency fund immediately. People in Vermont and across this country must not go cold this winter." Senator Patrick Leahy echoed Sanders, saying that the additional funding will be needed to help Vermont heat its homes. "This release of these emergency funds is welcome news that we have been asking and waiting for," said Leahy. "With high heating costs pressing down on thousands of Vermont households this winter, we already know that additional funds from the LIHEAP (Low Income Home Heating Assistance Program) reserve will be needed in our state after this." The average retail price for home heating oil reached a record $3.40 a gallon nationwide last week, up a staggering 98 cents from last year. The number of homes receiving aid has increased by 26 percent over the last five years, but federal support for LIHEAP has only increased by 10 percent. Thus, the average grant per home dropped while energy prices continued to rise. "This critical funding is long-overdue," said Congressman Peter Welch. "The high cost of heating fuel is crippling family budgets, threatening the well-being of many Vermonters already struggling to get by. Congress shouldn't have to continue to drag this President into recognizing the emergency so many Americans in cold-weather states face."

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