Thank you, Mr. President. I'm here today to talk about the importance of sustained funding and support for the low-income home energy assistance program better known as LIHEAP. I know it's something you care very much about as well. The LIHEAP program helps households pay home heating costs and targets funds for those families with the lowest incomes and the highest energy costs.

In 2010, nearly 165,000 families in Minnesota used this critical lifeline. Mr. President, Minnesota, our home state, may be known as the land of ice hockey and ice fishing and other winter sports, but our tough winters can be downright dangerous to families struggling to pay their utility bills and trying to keep the heat on. Even as Minnesota economy has weathered the recession better than most, we have seen a great increase in need for assistance with heating bills.

From 2008-2010, there was a 30% increase in families that needed energy assistance. Without sustained funding for the LIHEAP program at current levels, we risk pushing these 38,000 families out into the cold. This October I joined with my colleagues from many cold-weather states, as you did as well, in a letter that urged the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to release LIHEAP funds as quickly and at the highest level as possible.

We must follow up on this action by fully funding the LIHEAP program. On October 28, the Department of Health and Human Services released $1.7 billion for the LIHEAP program. This is a start but we need another $3 billion to ensure that we sustain the level of funding from last year. Depending on how and what the final appropriations are for the fiscal year 2012, it is important to recognize that we will need over $1 billion to fully fund the LIHEAP program.

Mr. President, I believe that seniors should not have to choose between paying for medication and their heating bills. Families should not have to choose between putting food on the table or keeping their furnace on at night. And children should always have a warm home to sleep in at night. The LIHEAP program is targeted to those families that are most in need. In fact, the average household served by the LIHEAP program in Minnesota had an income of $16,000, and 85% of the homes served by the LIHEAP program included at least one senior, a person with disability, or a child under the age of 18.

These families are struggling and now is not the time to pull the rug out from under their feet. The LIHEAP program is supported by nonprofit organizations like community action of Minneapolis and the Salvation Army, state and local governments, and utility companies. These organizations know the value that this program has to ensure that families have the tools that they need to stay safe during the coldest winter nights.

They also see how's it creates economic -- see how it creates economic activities by creating demand for utilities when household budgets are under the greatest strain and may be forced to go without.

According to economists, LIHEAP is a smart investment. For every dollar in benefits paid, $1.13 is generated in economic activity. As a cosponsor of the LIHEAP protection act introduced by senate Jack Reed of Rhode Island, I want to commend my colleagues on their leadership on this issue and look forward to working with them to ensure this legislation is passed and that funding for the critical program is maintained. Thank you very much, Mr. President.