Congressional lawmakers have agreed to restore $37.4 million in federal heating assistance for low-income households that President Trump’s administration had proposed diverting to help pay for the nation’s response to the coronavirus threat.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, announced in a tweet Wednesday afternoon that lawmakers had struck a deal that would be part of a $7.8 billion emergency bill to fund efforts to combat the virus. The House approved the emergency bill Wednesday afternoon and the Senate was expected to follow suit.

The appropriation includes at least $4.57 million for the state of Maine, Collins said.

The virus – COVID-19 – has so far infected more than 92,000 worldwide, 3,200 of whom have died. The virus is not yet widespread in the United States, but 10 Americans have died.

Federal and state health officials, President Trump and Congress are scrambling to devise plans to try to prevent or deal with a severe outbreak in the United States. House and Senate lawmakers have been working for about a week on the emergency supplemental budget deal.

Maine’s congressional delegation, including Collins, Sen. Angus King, and Reps. Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden, had sharply criticized the president last week for the proposed cuts to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).


“I strongly opposed the transfer of vital heating assistance funds and worked closely with U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., – my longtime partner on this issue – to protect the program, which is so important to our seniors and low-income families in Maine,” Collins said in a tweet.

Trump had proposed cutting public health funding, including for the National Institutes of Health, as well as LIHEAP to help pay for the coronavirus response.

Pingree said “we cannot solve one public health crisis by creating another.”

“I’m proud to have worked with my House Appropriations Committee colleagues to advance a bipartisan coronavirus funding package that fully addresses the scale of this public health crisis and backfills the $37 million stolen from LIHEAP by the Trump administration,” Pingree said in a statement.

Last week, Pingree, D-1st District, joined Democratic Reps. Joseph Kennedy of Massachusetts and Peter Welch of Vermont in drafting a letter to the House and Senate Appropriations committees asking them to reject the administration’s $2.5 billion emergency funding request.

In 2019, more than 30,000 Maine households received $36 million in assistance through LIHEAP, which provides money for repairing and replacing heating systems and weatherization improvements, in addition to emergency fuel assistance. Nationally, the LIHEAP program spends $3.7 billion on heating assistance.

King said in a tweet on Wednesday that cutting the program to pay for coronavirus response was “unthinkable.”

“Subjecting low-income Americans to cold winters without heating is no way to support public health,” King said.

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