U.S. senators from New England are asking the Biden administration to quickly send money to states for the program that helps people pay their heating bills.

U.S. Sens. Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat, and Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, said Friday they’re leading a coalition of 36 senators in urging the federal government to release funds for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program swiftly, at the highest level possible. Maine Sen. Angus King is also part of the group.

Reed and Collins said they’re making the request now because winter is approaching and energy costs are projected to precipitously increase. The federal funding is a crucial lifeline that helps low-income households and seniors on fixed incomes, they added.

About 5.3 million households nationwide received assistance through the program last year, they said.

“This funding will help ensure that low-income families and seniors do not have to make the impossible choice between paying for heat and paying for food or medicine, especially with the sharp increase in energy prices this year,” Collins said in a statement.

Last week, the Energy Information Administration issued its annual Winter Fuels Outlook and projected U.S. residents on average would pay 43 percent more for heating oil and 47 percent more for propane than they did last winter. Natural gas is also expected to be more expensive, with average increases of $23 a month to $30 a month, according to Maine distribution companies Summit Natural Gas and Unitil.

“The high prices follow changes to energy supply and demand patterns in response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the agency said.

Last year, Maine was awarded more than $40 million from heating aid program to help nearly 33,000 households.

The senators wrote to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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