Federal low-income energy assistance for Maine may be cut 50 percent

AUGUSTA — It's been so hot this summer that heat records in some parts of New England melted away with temperatures in the 100-degree range. At the same time, the frigid days of the winter ahead are on the minds of officials in the region's statehouses.

As July went on record the warmest month on record in Portland, Maine, President Barack Obama's proposal to chop the budget of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program nearly in half hung eerily in the background. Amid the simmering heat, Gov. Paul LePage had some chilling news for people attending a Capitol for a Day meeting in Dover-Foxcroft.

LePage warned that Maine's LIHEAP funding from the federal government could be cut in half, from $54 million for this year to about $26 million. He noted that the reduction could come as the cost of heating fuel rises above last year's level.

An organization that follows those trends agrees. The National Energy Assistance Directors' Association says the average cost of heating a home in New England with oil will be about $2,983 this winter, nearly $650 more than last year. High unemployment and colder-than-average winter temperatures exacerbate the problem for poor families, it notes.

While the president presented his budget in February, congressional review of the allocations is not expected before September. Given past experience, the cuts may not be as severe as states now fear, and the administration has said it's willing to revisit the figures.

In Maine, LePage has pledged to do all he can, despite the state's tight fiscal environment, to prevent people from freezing this winter if the worst comes true.

While it's never too early to think about funding for a program that's critically important in chilly New England, preseason jitters over the program are an annual occurrence. And the usual pattern is for funding to come through — after pressure is applied from lawmakers from cold states.

"Every president in the last 15 years has proposed cuts in LIHEAP. It's not unusual to see a president knock LIHEAP around," said Richard Moffi, fuel assistance program chief for Vermont, which is looking at a cut in heating assistance from $25.6 million to $11.6 million. "Congress usually comes along and they hold the line."

And as of now, Obama's proposal to cut LIHEAP in half from about $5 billion is just a proposal, says Kirston Figueroa, director of energy and heating services for Maine State Housing, which administers heating assistance.

"It's such a moving target because we never really know until we know," Figueroa said.

Celeste Lovett, New Hampshire's fuel assistance program manager, agreed. Federal figures show New Hampshire's LIHEAP funding could be cut from $36 million to $15 million.

"It's really too soon to tell," Lovett said. "What we've done in New Hampshire is go forward with taking applications."

In Connecticut, the allocation would drop from $98 million to $41 million, Massachusetts from $175 million to $81 million, and Rhode Island from $34 million to $15.4 million.

New Hampshire started accepting applications in mid-July from vulnerable households — those with residents over age 60, under age 6 or people with disabilities. The application process starts for the general public on Sept. 1.

The Obama administration, questioned about the proposed funding cut, acknowledged that the new LIHEAP figure was based on the expectation that fuel prices would be lower this winter. But in northern New England, they're expected to be in the $4-per-gallon range.

That affects a lot of families. About seven in 10 New England homes use heating oil, the University of New Hampshire's Carsey Institute says. Federal figures from 2007, the latest available, show that just over 355,000 households in the six New England states received LIHEAP assistance.

Federal officials say that the LIHEAP budget proposal for fiscal 2012, which starts Oct. 1, is $2.6 billion. That compares to $4.7 billion for the current fiscal year, said Kenneth Wolfe, a spokesman for the federal Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families.

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Comments

Jerome Young's picture

I think the big mistake is

I think the big mistake is TAKING federal LIHEAP, or whatever its called. We should be taking care of our own. I wonder if the people who are ADMINISTRATING this program are taking cuts in THEIR pay...I doubt it. Just $5 a month from all of us who are working, to our own non-profit would help those in this community that need help. We just need to identify the the ones who are trying.....the thought of single mom's rotating electric heaters around to stay warm....breaks my heart. Better yet, identify someone in your neighborhood, who needs some help, fill their oil tank, pay their electric bill...and don't tell them who did it. If you are working, and have some extra bucks, just do it.

liheap

I hear you. But I am working, i drive 18 miles each way to a job that pays 8.25 an hour for 20 hrs a week. Then end up paying approx 100 weekly in gas. Which leaves me approx 50 bucks a week to pay rent, and bills. so if I had an extra 5 I would love to be able to help someone else out. But right now i can;t even help myself. I don't go anywhere, I have to bring my daughter to work with me because the programs for daycare don't work with my hours. I usually work 6 am til 1. most daycare's don't open til 6:30am or I work 2 to 9 pm and most daycare's close at 6pm. So that doesn't help me. She'll be in school soon from 8:15 to 3pm so hopefully I'll find something closer and work during my daughter's school schedule.

GARY SAVARD's picture

Florida sounds like a nice

Florida sounds like a nice place to live when one is faced with having to survive a Maine winter without "free " oil or whatever, and before freezing to death, that would be my choice. While there are plenty of people in Maine that really need LIHEAP assistance, there are many that work harder to make sure they qualify for the program than if they actually went out and got a job. Hopefully, if the cuts stand, only those in real need get the funds Maine ends up with. Last year there was enough money around that one person I know got a fall check for about $750, and then a winter check for about $1500.

CLAIRE GAMACHE's picture

Winter;s coming

As long as we continue to elect millionaires to run the country they will continue to do what they do best which is to craft cozy deals for themselves and their cronies, to demonize the poor and to shift the burden of helping the elderly and the sick to someone else. There are only 3 things we can do about winter: a) let people freeze who cannot pay for heat b) use tax money to help people pay for heat and for insulating their homes or c) use tax money to pay for alternate sources of heat which will cause a decrease in demand for oil thereby lowering the price. It seems to me the more we do C the less we have to do B. Apparently our elected officials prefer A.

heating

I have to safety space heaters. I put one in the room im in at the time. when i go to bed i move it to the bedroom. They stay at a regulated temp. If it gets too hot it shuts off. if it falls over it shuts off etc.. I works. It runs about 20 bucks a month on the electric bill. Last winter i could buy heating oil. so i put up a blanket in my living room an it stayed at 70 degrees. throughout the night in there. Both my daughter and I slept comfortably. the rest of the house was 50 degrees or below until we brought the heaters in to warm them up. I don't think we need new casino's or new restaurants etc... we need to help the poor and the elderly first. fix up homes and find low income houses. Instead of building new office buildings or condo's why not repair the ones still standing and fix them up for low income residents. That will save money. Im tired of being poor working my butt off and getting nothing in return. The government is living off our sweat and blood and living very well. They need to do the work once in a while and let us live off their sweat and blood.

Allisa Milliard's picture

i have my dryer exhausting

i have my dryer exhausting back into the trailer rather then outside. we put a nylon stocking over the hose and clean out the lint after every load just like the lint trap inside. if i do a load a day, even a small load, we can heat to about 65 for the few hours we are home and awake, our theristat was set to 61. we also have a baseboard type space heater. last winter, we all slept in the same bed for about a month to conserve heating oil. my daughter has a heart problem, and when her lips turn blue we just have to try warming her in the shower first before wondering if theres an issue. last month i finally paid off last winter's electric bill, and now i have 2 months to pay off last years oil bill before i can order more. our rented trailer is old and drafty and doesn't hold well in winter. my husband and i both work and can barely make it through last winter i don't want to think about this one.
as for lihep: they cut my 64 year old mother's liheap assistance last year, and she's worked since she was 12 and still works 16 hours a week as a cna at an alzymers nursing home to suppliment her social security. however, my chronically unemployed brother in law and his stay-at-home-mom wife get plenty of lihep assistance and thats the important thing.

heating cuts

I think it's funny that people who sit at home, don't work and keep having kids get more help than those working to survive but finding the more they work the less they can afford to eat, be warm, and put gas in their cars. I'm a single mom working 20 hrs a week and going to school. by the time i pay my rent and put gas in my car to go to work i have no money to do laundry or to buy necessities such as t. paper or anything else. I can't even get childcare because i don't work traditional hrs because the job i have is open from 6 am to 9 pm. I'd be living on the street if it weren't for my landlord being good friends with my brother. So I hear ya.more attention needs to be taken for the elderly, sick and disabled, single parent homes and those who are trying to get off assistance. Not the ones who keep losing jobs or are too lazy to do anything for themselves.

Martha Burnell's picture

I see your problem

Cathy, at least part of the answer to your delemma. The problem is you're trying to get off assistance. The whole system is set up to keep you dependent. If everyone got off assistance there would be no job for those who work in the assistance office. Of course, we can't have that... Please note my sarcasm.

low income

Yea, because if everyone got off assistance, those who provide the assistance will be on assistance and they will need our tax money. This system is set up for us all to fail and become dependent on one government. Also I'm all for helping poor countries with no water or food. But why send them money, when they just keep needing more? Why not take a group of engineers, teach those countries how to do for themselves, and how to be self sufficient. Did anyone ever think of that? No because we in america just love giving our hard earned money to the other people who don't know how to do for themselves because they don't have anyone to teach them. *Note my Sarcasm*

Isn't it odd

that people think that just sweaters and lots of layers of clothing will keep you warm when the room temperature is 50 degrees or lower? Not true.

The President is living at taxpayer expense in a house that has: 132 rooms, 35 bathrooms, and 6 levels in the Residence. There are also 412 doors, 147 windows, 28 fireplaces, 8 staircases, and 3 elevators.

Must be nice to live without caring about how to pay for the heat. I can guarantee not one of those rooms goes cold, and that's without lighting the fireplaces.

I'll remember that this winter.

Ed McCaffrey's picture

Time to start

Thinking about sweaters if you're low income. Personally, I've always been just above the income level that qualifies me for Liheap, so I know all about it. Looks like more of you might be joining me this year. Welcome!!!

Allisa Milliard's picture

us either, and my kid has a

us either, and my kid has a heart problem. a co worker of mine (we're kitchen workers) whose husband has cystic fibrosis, doesn't qualify either. her income and his disability and social security disqualify them. they missed the mark by less then $100.

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