My calendar keeps insisting the first day of winter is not until December 21, but after a weekend of major snow storms in the Midwest, record low temperatures in the South, and a prediction for more frigid weather to hit the entire eastern half of the country later this week, I beg to differ.

Given this state of affairs, the announcement made by the Obama Administration last Friday could not have come at a better time. This was notice of additional funding to the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) in the form of $670 million to states to help low-income families with their winter heating bills.

LIHEAP is a federal program administered by the states that provides financial assistance to low-income families to adequately heat and insulate their homes in the winter months and cool their homes in the summer. While not the most glamorous federal grant program, it is an extremely important one. As families of all income levels know, energy costs can be a significant expense – and depending on fluctuating energy prices, sometimes an unexpected one. These costs are also often one of the first things families must cut back on when times are tight.

Children have little to no control over such household cutbacks, but unfortunately often bear the brunt of the effects. Cutting back on heating in the winter is not a question of putting on an extra sweater. Rather, households facing energy insecurity may have had their heat cut off after falling behind on payments, or they are families who may resort to using appliances such as kitchen stoves as alternative sources of warmth (which present new hazards in the home). The implications for the health and development of these children can be serious. A report from Children’s Health Watch found that children in households with energy insecurity are more likely to be food insecure, suffer from poor health, be hospitalized, and be at risk from developmental delays. The recession has only escalated this situation – with more than 1 in 10 children across the country living with an unemployed parent, chances are that family budgets are tighter than usual going into this winter season.

Programs like LIHEAP make a key difference to health and well-being, but also demonstrate why stable federal funding is so important to children and their families. Despite the Administration’s decision to temporarily increase LIHEAP, the outlook for the overall fiscal year 2011 federal budget is unfortunately still uncertain. Federal spending for fiscal year 2011 has been enacted so far on the basis of temporary Continuing Resolutions, or CRs, because the regular Appropriations process was not completed by the end of the last fiscal year on September 30.

However, there is another funding option: an omnibus package, which is essentially a collection of all the spending bills for the next fiscal year in a single piece of legislation. In contrast to CRs, an omnibus is a more stable option for the country’s budget because it allows federal agencies, like the Health and Human Services (HHS) department that administers LIHEAP, to plan out their budgets and run their programs as intended – ensuring, for example, that low-income families will have a steady source of heating assistance through the winter months.

Congressional leaders have signaled there is still a chance of bringing omnibus legislation up for a vote and we hope that possibility is a real one. The recession has made life precarious enough for low-income families, bringing added stresses and concern to daily life. As we move into the winter months, and particularly the holiday season, making sure their children will be warm enough at home should be a worry we take off their list.