Obama’s Low-Income Energy Cuts Will Make Unreported Crisis Worse
Millions of Americans have found themselves shivering in their homes during this brutal winter, as a result of massive cuts for low-income heating.
Obama’s 2016 fiscal year budget request for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) further exacerbates the problem, as it would bring founding down to about about two thirds of what it was in 2010. Obama requested $3.5 billion for the program, far lower than the $4.7 billion supporters were looking for. The issue is an urgent one. For example, Eastern Kentucky ran through its crisis LIHEAP funding in a little over two weeks.
Since 2010, the cuts have meant 1.4 million eligible recipients have been bumped from LIHEAP every year. In 2012, after proposing LIHEAP funding be cut in from $5.1 billion to $2.57 billion, the President declared that, “Energy prices have now gone down but the cost of the program has stayed the same. So what we’ve said is let’s go back to a more sustainable level.”
Fortunately, Congress failed to comply with the President’s proposal and approved a package nearly a $1 billion more than his recommendation, but the situation remained dire. In 2013, over 35 million households qualified for the program, but only 6.7 million people were assisted.
The human impact of these cuts has been devastating. A recent PBS Newshour report took a close look at how the changes have pushed many families toward the poverty line and forced some to choose between heat and hunger. A piece by US Uncut co-founder, Carl Gibson tells the story of John Skelley, a 69-year-old veteran with cancer, who died of hypothermia on February 1. Gibson wrote, “His utility company, Consumers Energy, turned off the heat in his Hazel Park, Michigan, apartment over an unpaid $750 bill dating back to March 2012. The amount in question wasn’t even owed by Skelley, but by former tenant Joseph Mixen. But regardless of who owed the $750, LIHEAP...could have made the difference were it not for President Obama insisting on deep cuts to the program in almost all of his yearly budget recommendations.”
The National Energy and Utility Affordability Coalition, a broad group of organizations concerned with raising energy awareness, is hosting a LIHEAP Action Day, in Washington DC on March 25, in an effort to pressure legislators to increase funding.