After lawmakers complained that utilities were cutting off heat for thousands of seniors and low-income families before the worst of winter, federal authorities announced Thursday they would release $100 million in emergency heating aid for the poor.

The Department of Health and Human Services said it would distribute $100 million from a $300 million fund for the Low-Income Heating and Energy Assistance Program (search).

That is in addition to some $1.2 billion sent to states in October as part of the Low-Income Heating and Energy Assistance Program. The bulk of the money goes to cold-weather states in the Northeast and Midwest.

Dr. Wade Horn (search), HHS assistant secretary for children and families, said the move was necessary because many parts of the country have already felt a blast of winter weather. In addition, HHS said it was sending an additional $65 million in regular LIHEAP funding that had been held up by delays in a congressional spending bill.

Members of Congress had been pressing the Bush administration to release the full $300 million heating aid emergency reserve. The issue of when and how much LIHEAP money to release is often a point of contention between northern lawmakers and the White House.

"This fraction of the $300 million is not sufficient to meet the demands the states are facing," Sen. Jack Reed (search), D-R.I., said after the release was announced. More than 21,000 Rhode Island families had their utilities shut off as of October because of nonpayment of heating bills, Reed said.

Others, like New York's governor George Pataki, have pressed Congress to put more money in the program.

LIHEAP aids an estimated 4.5 million households each year.

The largest benefactor of the program, New York, will receive nearly $17 million of the fresh infusion of aid. Pennsylvania will get $7.5 million, and Massachusetts $5.6 million.

Two other cold-weather states, Minnesota and Michigan, each will receive more than $4 million. Louisiana, by comparison, will get about $600,000.