Maine told heat aid being slashed

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — As Andy Tasker watches his work hours and pay go down, his need for heating assistance goes up. The Auburn resident and thousands like him in Maine are facing drastic cuts in Low Income Home Energy Assistance, as the price of heating oil rises far above last year's level.

"This is a necessity to me," Tasker said Monday, just days after federal government told the Maine State Housing Authority that it should expect to receive $23 million for the program, down from $55.6 million last year — a 60 percent drop.

Maine Housing officials, and their counterparts around the Northeast, are hoping one of two bills in Congress will bolster heating assistance, but the outlook nonetheless is not good that the final amount will help people like Tasker.

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin said Wednesday he, too, is worried that federal cuts to heating assistance are coming at a time of increasing fuel prices — up 80 cents per gallon since November 2010 in parts of New England.

"The numbers are moving in the wrong direction," Shumlin said.

Tasker, 60, gets help from the federal program known as LIHEAP to help pay his rent in an oil-heated apartment building he lives in. He's worked since he was a teenager in a succession of jobs from dishwasher to structural steel painter. His latest, in a job-training organization, cut his paid hours from 22 to 14. That makes his LIHEAP check a necessity, he said.

"My landlady is a very understanding person. But that's only going to last so long," said Tasker, who picks up cans and bottles to supplement his income.

Maine Housing Executive Director Dale McCormick said Tasker isn't alone among the roughly 65,000 Maine families receiving LIHEAP. Even while heating oil prices were much lower and LIHEAP funding higher last year, some Mainers were nevertheless desperate for assistance, she said.

McCormick cited one case in Washington County in which a woman's house was so cold her doors froze closed, and her neighbors couldn't get to her until an emergency delivery of oil came. In another case, she said, a disabled veteran whose income was $4,000 a year broke down in tears when he received a $600 heating assistance check.

"It's so important a lifeline for a whole group of our fellow citizens," McCormick said.

In Vermont, LIHEAP paid for 262 gallons of No. 2 home heating oil last winter for the average participating household, Shumlin said. Cuts proposed by the Obama administration, combined with rising prices, would reduce that to 96 gallons this year. The average Vermont home that uses oil for heat burns 764 gallons per year, Shumlin's office said.

Shumlin said he's proposing a transfer of $2.5 million in state funds to LIHEAP from a program set up to make low-income residents' homes more energy-efficient.

Matt Cota, executive director of the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association, said that, combined with $11 million in federal funds, would allow the average household to buy 130 gallons of heating oil, assuming October's average price of $3.68 per gallon.

Shumlin said he had spoken with other governors around the Northeast, and they share his concern about LIHEAP funding. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office issued a statement saying that "given the continuing challenges facing our economy, this program is more essential than ever in providing a critical lifeline to those vulnerable New York households struggling to pay home energy bills."

Shumlin said Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick was coordinating a letter to Congress from the region's governors. A call to Patrick's office was referred to the state office that handles LIHEAP, where a spokeswoman did not immediately reply to a message left to her.

Maine's housing authority said it's joining the state's congressional delegation in urging Congress to approve more funding for the program. Last year, the average benefit was $804, and a little over half of the recipients were low-income seniors or disabled people.

But since last year, the federal government has made eligibility standards more difficult besides cutting back allocations. And that comes amid higher fuel prices and the housing authority's expectation that even more people will apply for help this season due to weak economic conditions, more people learning about the program and new enrollees who have scraped by in past winters, but are finally deciding to ask for help. The Housing authority says about 34 percent of Maine households, or 188,000, would meet income eligibility standards.

Maine officials are now hoping for action on legislation in Congress that would bolster the program's funding. A Senate budget bill would give $45.7 million in LIHEAP funding to Maine instead of the $23 million now promised, and it includes a provision to allocate more funds to cold-weather states. A House bill sets the amount at $33.9 million and does not include the cold-weather state provision, McCormick said.

___

Associated Press writer Dave Gram in Montpelier, Vt., contributed to this report.

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Comments

David  Cote's picture

Just another two cents worth.

One thing that hasn't been brought up here... Conservatives are for less government intrusion, am I right? No entitlement programs and such? In reality, and according to these stated principles, isn't this decision by the Obama adm. to cut back on heating assistance dollars a move toward that concept? I mean, you can't have it both ways, can you?

Mark Elliott's picture

David, conservatives are not

David, conservatives are not complaining about the cuts, we are complaining about Terry implying that this is all LePage's fault..........with him and Dan, blaming republicans seems to be a natural "knee jerk" response without all the facts.....

David  Cote's picture

Understood, Mark

Actually, I didn't direct my opinion at Terry's post. I read it and I don't usually comment on posts I consider outlandish and blatantly incorrect. My comment is aimed at the perception conservatives have about the role of government in their lives. Heating assistance is a neccessity in a lot of lives here in Maine and elsewhere, and is a form of government control since the funds for it are provided by taxpayer dollars. My point is where is the line drawn between government inclusion and intrusion in our lives? Conservatives bark at government if, for instance, they enact a law that is perceived to infringe upon the rights of the public, yet government is villified if they tell us funding for programs such as this one is going to be cut. We cry out for less taxation, however when this is the result then we cry foul. Then the argument turns toward fraud among recipients of aid, weeding out the cheaters. How do we determine who needs it and who doesn't? If someone has concrete evidence of fraud it is their obligation to report it. How often does that happen? Does government have enough funding to weed the cheats out? I understand the concept of less government and, fact is, government's role in our lives is to administer public policy and affairs. I don't understand conservative's Jekyll and Hyde view as to what government's role should be. Legislating laws and policy is not tailor-made, it's off the rack. In situatuions such as this we DO need government to be there for us, whether the "intrusion" is welcome or not.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

If oBAMa would get off his

If oBAMa would get off his ass and make an effort to get the price of heating oil down to an affordable level for most families, LIHEAP funding or lack thereof might not be so damn critical. The sad part is that at least half of the Northeast will vote to elect the bufoon for a second term.

GARY SAVARD's picture

Terry, if, as you imply,

Terry, if, as you imply, this is President Obama's way of "getting even" with Paul Lepage for a remark made on the campaign trail, then his Chicago style politics would make Al Capone look tame. Your comment makes absolutely no sense.

Terry Donald's picture

Folks in Augusta should be happy at this news.

Right up LePage's alley. Cut out government handouts, let our people stand on their own 2 feet, if they weren't so well paid on government assistance maybe they'd go out and fill those thousands of jobs available in Maine,,,,,,,
Or maybe this is what you get when you stand alongside the tea baggers and say things like the president can "go to hell"??

Mark Elliott's picture

which term? The "go to he**"

which term? The "go to he**" or the name calling "tea baggers"?

Mark Elliott's picture

That works....

That works....

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

It's the government being

It's the government being 'led' by YOUR president that is cutting Maine's funding for LIHEAP. LePage has nothing to do with it.

Mark Elliott's picture

have you been listening to

have you been listening to the crap your "flea baggers" are saying????.......

Bob Stone's picture

Grasping At Straws Terry

Nice try, but this is a federal program. Last I checked, Paul LePage is governor of the State of Maine. The governor is working hard to improve the collective lot of the people of this great state. If you think he would let any citizen freeze, you've got the wrong man.

You remind me of the dalmation dog we had when we were kids. Scratch him in just the right place on his side, and his leg would scratch reflexively. If the Sun-Journal posts anything that is remotely problematic, here comes a post from you, trashing a good man. It is getting old. Perhaps you should go back to the state that you came from and let us Mainers deal with our issues.

Paul Soucy's picture

Folks in Augusta should be happy abouth this news.

Terry,
Before you start blaming the tea party, maybe you should go after the people who abuse the system and run it dry so folks like this veteran can get his needed assistance. There are plenty on the welfare dole that know how to get around the system.

Mark Elliott's picture

He won't do that Paul,

He won't do that Paul, because it will probably destroy his social circles.......

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