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LIHEAP.org Political Profiles: Speaker of the House Paul D. Ryan

Writing and Reporting by Jake Brown

 

Newly elected Speaker of the House of Representatives, Congressman Paul D. Ryan from Wisconsin, is no stranger to the realities of LIHEAP’s necessity as an essential “helping hand” in his traditionally cold home district, which just this year was awarded $91,666,854 in FY2016 funding.  Ryan has a vocal history of support for the program, dating back to his earliest days in Congress. In 2001, the Speaker praised on  his official Congressional website the reforms in the nation’s energy policy that addressed the extraordinary challenge for “Wisconsinites whose home heating bills…spiked this past year know firsthand what tight supply and an aging infrastructure can mean for the family budget. People should not go broke heating their homes.” In his official press release, the Speaker wrote that the new energy bill included important “increases funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) which helps low-income consumers pay high energy bills.”

 

As his tenure in Congress continued, so too did Speaker Ryan’s acknowledgement of the life-saving help that he’d witnessed LIHEAP dollars continue to provide in the lives of “many low-income Wisconsin families” who the Congressman noted in 2003 had been “struggling with the cost of heating their homes this winter.”  A family man who has spent virtually every weekend of his 16 year Congressional career back home with his wife and children in his native hometown of Janesville, Ryan had the opportunity to hear time again from constituents in his district about the difference this vital program had made in easing what the Speaker candidly described as “the strain at a critical time. With temperatures dipping to dangerously cold levels, this help is especially crucial. I support the President’s decision to free up this funding now in order to provide needed relief.”

 

Even as Congress has battled over entitlement reforms throughout the past decade, Speaker Ryan has made it a point to help draw the important distinction between other aid programs and LIHEAP, which is notably not an entitlement program.  As a key architect of negotiations over entitlement overhaul efforts, Ryan in 2007 on his own website in a press release detailing the Congressman’s support for the package noted the exception of LIHEAP from being categorized as an entitlement, and in fact moving in the opposite direction of the discretionary spending cuts to push for the establishment of an emergency contingency fund for LIHEAP that “makes $1 billion in additional budget authority available in Fiscal Year 2007 for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP); 25% allocated through the program formula and 75% through the contingency fund.  Related Note: The defense appropriations bill (conference report on H.R. 2863) that passed the House today contained $2 billion in home energy assistance funding for Fiscal Year 2006, including $1.5 billion for the LIHEAP contingency fund. (This is in addition to the regular LIHEAP appropriation.)”

 

Recognizing Ryan’s long-term support of LIHEAP, in 2013, prominent Wisconsin non-profit Energy Services’ Director Tim Bruer – whose organization represents approximately 1/3rd (or around 35%) of the number of households receiving benefits and services from LIHEAP in Wisconsin – confirmed that “Congressman Ryan has appreciated the tremendous impact of LIHEAP, and seen it prevent thousands of his constituents from falling into crisis shelters and homeless shelters.  Energy Services operates in probably 80% of Paul Ryan’s district, and as a matter of fact, I can see his home district Offices from my own.”

 

Discussing specific LIHEAP-funded successes that have flourished in part because of the Speaker’s consistent support for maximum program funding, Bruer offered the  In Congressman Ryan’s District, where Brock and Recine are the two most populated counties, Recine County was awarded as one of the 3 national pilots last year where they were awarded a REACH Grant, and we worked successfully with the utilities and on the grassroots through LIHEAP program in the rural needs in that particular county, recognizing it has some of the highest unemployment and highest percentages of elderly and at-risk populations that were facing disconnections.  So we literally had over 3600 households that we identified and qualified in the early part of 2013, and we worked with those individual households, put them on budget plans and worked with the utilities, and they were able to maintain their obligations to the utilities, instead of being disconnected 2 or 3 times a year, and about 2000 of those households previously had been the most chronic disconnects.”

 

“That is quite expensive for the utility as well, so at the top of December when the utilities compared to nine months earlier, it was down 70%, when it was unimaginable that at this time, we would even see 30 or 40% because of the dire economic situation facing these households with limited incomes throughout Recine still maintaining their agreements this much time later.  So the utilities now want to duplicate this in other major communities in Wisconsin like Milwaukee, etc, because we’ve now got enough hard data coming out of our success with that 70% to demonstrate that if you provide the tools and resources to those who are – through no fault of their own – struggling to survive.  So with that success right in his own back yard, we really have enjoyed the support of Governor Walker and Congressman Ryan.”

 

Sources:

1.)http://paulryan.house.gov/newsroom/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=293152

2.) http://paulryan.house.gov/newsroom/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=293084

3.) http://paulryan.house.gov/newsroom/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=247406)

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