Less Heat for Poor This Winter, Thanks to Austerity
The relentless assault on low-income Americans continued apace Thursday as part of the budget "deal" Republicans made not to shut down the government. Figuring that the Pentagon isn't getting enough taxpayer money, but the poor are getting too much, Congress boosted spending for core defense by about 1 percent over the current year, a bit more than $5.6 billion. But it only approved $3.47 billion to the main federal program that helps keep low-income Americans, many of them seniors, from freezing to death. That's a 25 percent cut from the current budget.
If you live on the south side of Chicago or on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota, better buy some more blankets.The money is for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). Begun in 1981, the federally funded, state- and tribally administered program provides first-come, first-served lump-sum aid to qualifying households needing help with heating or air conditioning bills. A couple of hundred dollars a year is the typical subsidy for a household. Some states increase the number of eligible households by increasing the income range of those who qualify. The federal government sets that level at 150 per cent of the poverty line.
The current year's budget funded the program at $4.7 billion. But President Obama sent up to Congress a 2012 fiscal-year budget with a request for LIHEAP of only $2.57 billion, a 45 percent reduction, by far the largest in the program's three-decade history. On Thursday, Congress added back in almost a billion above the President's request.
By knocking a billion off the increase it gave the Pentagon, Congress could have frozen the LIHEAP budget at the current level. It decided to freeze some people on fixed incomes instead. In the sacred name of austerity, of course. Funny how poor people are the ones, once again, targeted for a lesson in belt-tightening. As if they didn't already understand austerity all too well.