President Barack Obama’s 2012 budget is proposing a cut of $2.5 billion from a program providing financial relief for low-income and elderly citizens faced with high energy costs associated with cold winter temperatures as well as the heat of summer.
The new budget, to be revealed on Monday, will propose cuts to a program that received $5.1 billion in federal funds in 2010 and is considered severe, impacting millions of families,CNN Money reports. Those funds were distributed to states that, combined, experience high energy costs and low average incomes for its residents.
According to the National Journal, it is the largest cut in domestic spending that has been disclosed so far over Obama’s new budget. Proposed cuts to the program, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), come with harsh criticism from Democratic lawmakers.
“if these cuts are real, it would be a very disappointing development for millions of families still struggling through a harsh winter,” Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) said, according to the National Journal.
The move is seen as an effort by the Obama administration to be taken seriously over its attempts at trimming a budget deficit projected to be more than $1.5 trillion for 2011, but many Democrats and some Republicans are opposed to the cut, and may join efforts to keep funding levels in place.
The National Journal also reports Sen. John Kerry, (D-Mass.) sent a letter to Obama stating: “We simply cannot afford to cut LIHEAP funding during one of the most brutal winters in history. Families across Massachusetts, and the country, depend on these monies to heat their homes and survive the season.”
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, (D-NH) calls the proposal severe and said: “The President’s reported proposal to drastically slash LIHEAP funds by more than half would have a severe impact on many of New Hampshire’s most vulnerable citizens and I strongly oppose it,” the National Journal reports.
Among Republicans expected to join with Democratic ranks in opposing the cut are senators Scott Brown of Massachusetts along with Susan Collins and Olympia Snow, both of Maine.
CNN Money states that 15 states each received more than $100 million in program aid in 2010. Among them, New York topped the list at $479 million. Pennsylvania received $282 million while Illinois and Michigan each received $233 million. Massachusetts received $175 million.
A bipartisan group of 31 senators wrote to Obama administration budget officials on Friday urging a reconsideration of the proposal.
Joined by Sen. Snowe, Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) wrote: “To cut this critical funding during one of the coldest winters in recent memory would not only be devastating for the individuals who rely on LIHEAP to keep their families safe and warm, but would serve as a threat to our national economic recovery,” CNN Money reported.
USA Today reported that
Lawmakers from New England and other northern states always fight efforts to cut the program.
Sen. Kerry said: “I've always supported serious efforts to restore fiscal sanity, but in the middle of a brutal, even historic, New England winter, home heating assistance is more critical than ever to the health and welfare of millions of Americans, especially senior citizens,” according to USA Today.
This year’s winter has been extreme for most of the country and rising fuel prices are another concern for many of the lawmakers opposed to the proposed cut. However, administration officials have pointed out that the government has attempted to keep pace with those rising prices, with 2009’s funding of $8.1 billion being a substantial increase over the 2008 amount of $2.6 billion.
According to Markey, the reduction could have negative consequences for millions of families in the US. “Returning to 2008 funding levels ... would mean forcing 3.1 million families nationwide to return to deciding between heating and eating,” he said, CNN Money noted.
Data collected by the American Gas Association confirms Markey’s numbers. It collected data from state government agencies and predicts the cuts would affect 3.2 million households, or 9 million Americans.