MONTPELIER, Vt. — Three U.S. senators from New England say they’ll introduce a bill this coming week to protect the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program from a 45 percent cut proposed by President Barack Obama.

The so-called LIHEAP Protection Act would provide the same level of funding for the program — $4.7 billion — as it received last year.

Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Olympia Snowe of Maine and Jack Reed of Rhode Island say the funding level proposed by the president will leave many low-income families choosing between heat and food this winter.

The senators say demand for the program has gone up during the economic downturn. Last year it provided help to 8.9 million households, representing a 54 percent increase since 2008.