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Leaders, Communities Vehemently Reject LIHEAP Elimination

LIHEAP Supporters Rally to Share Impact of Program Across the Nation

 

Writing and Reporting by Jake Brown

Many political pundits – including an alarmed club of conservative commentators – are arguing that the biggest falsehood of the White House’s newly released budget comes with the claim that “LIHEAP is a lower-impact program and is unable to demonstrate strong performance outcomes.”  A statistically proven falsehood with real voices of those affected by the threat of cuts standing ready to dispute the notion that LIHEAP wasn’t performing above and beyond expectations given its demand exceeding available funding b standing ready to dispute the notion that LIHEAP wasn’t performing above and beyond expectations, with legendary Republican Senate Institution John McCain – whose summer heat victims in Arizona have long benefited from LIHEAP’s shade – made the flat-out declaration this week that “it is clear that this budget proposed today cannot pass the Senate.”

 

As President Donald Trump’s budget was released last week, its bad news for LIHEAP funding was proudly and loudly countered with the good news that Republicans and Democrats alike were saying “NO!” to a program they’ve seen help – and in some cases save the lives of – their most vulnerable constituents.  Each national news outlet in their coverage seemed to appreciate the unique importance LIHEAP plays in the communities they report on day in and out, as was reflected in the extra word-count devoted to underscoring just how significant the threat was to the real lives of real people, beginning with the general warning sirens that began blasting across the media airwaves.

 

 

The USA Today reported the week of March 17th that “President Trump’s proposed budget takes a cleaver to domestic programs, with many agencies taking percentage spending cuts in the double digits.  But for dozens of smaller agencies and programs, the cut is 100%,” and it was that sobering fact that became a firestorm across social media that began to spread to network and cable news outlets when Heidi Pryzbyla, USA Today Sr. Politics Reporter, appeared on the 11th Hour with Brian Williams on MSNBC to report on the immediate rejection EVEN AMONG REPUBLICANS of the idea of yanking this safety blanket off the backs of millions of vulnerable families around the country, hammering home the message that “Republicans that I talk to – and that is part of the story that I talked to a number of Republican budget officials – just can’t see this surviving in its current form…This is his first opportunity to express that populist doctrine that he sold to so many people in these depressed areas of the country…What I did was looked at in this story not just the meat axe he takes to all of the broader social safety net programs, but specifically how these cuts would target Trump country, for instance the rural store fronts that provide job training to displaced workers…LIHEAP, which serves elderly and poor cold people in these great lake states, cut.”

 

 

Hammering home the reality as CNN warned that “Trump’s budget would eliminate funding for some small, independent agencies entirely, as well as zero out some federal programs,” including one the L.A. Times noted would gut “$4.2 billion in grants the federal government provides to communities to assist poor people, including the decades-old Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which helps low-income Americans with their heating bills.”  The news was potentially destabilizing to the Republican base and its implied interest where publicly-traded utility stocks were concerned that the NASDAQ echoed the caution that if the White House gets its way, “the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which helps people pay utility bills and weatherize their homes, will be gone.”

 

 

As the chilling news filtered down into local news cycles, CBS News’ leading local Philadelphia affiliate used the opportunity to highlight the individual difference this vital protection makes locally for families in the city of Brotherly Love, noting that LIHEAP “provides families $200-300 a year so they don’t lose utility service,” while with the same mission in mind, the Boston Globe pointedly targeted the President’s budget for its aim “to kill the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which helps people, including seniors on fixed incomes and the working poor, to pay their heating bills. It’s a particularly prized resource in New England, with its brutal winters.”

 

 

In spite of this compelling argument, the Washington Post revealed the White House was making with their “budget blueprint…(where) the administration asserts that many programs, like LIHEAP, are targeted for elimination because of a failure to demonstrate efficacy,” while the Post countered the same week that “on the contrary, a number of federal and private academic reports on the program’s efficacy have had generally positive things to say about the program’s efficacy,” specifically calling attention to the cold, hard fact that “recipient families are low income, and tend to skimp on spending elsewhere to keep the lights on” while the collateral damage included “young children living in LIHEAP households were less likely to be undernourished, as well as less likely to require emergency hospitalization, than young kids in economically similar non-LIHEAP households.”

 

 

Republican lawmakers from around the country stepped up to strongly refute that notion right off the bat, sending a clear signal that this universally-  was OFF THE TABLE.  Examples of the most vocal and powerful rebukes came from longtime Kentucky Republican Hal Rogers – a Congressman from a Trump-voting district – who scoffed loudly at the idea that her constituents could depend on friendly weather alone to get on without energy assistance, bluntly stating on the record that “I am disappointed that many of the reductions and eliminations proposed in the President’s skinny budget are draconian, careless and counterproductive…(Those agencies) serve as vital economic lifelines in rural parts of the country that are still working to overcome substantial challenges.”

 

 

Hitting many of the rural voters who sent him to the White House, the upset this time around was on those voters, whose spokes-folk ironically became the very Republicans who arguably might have supported such cuts were they not devastating to what Maine Republican Congressman Bruce Poliquin directly declaring his intention to “make sure we maintain support for programs and agencies that serve our families and communities, help protect our environment and provide quality programming for children. I’m specifically concerned about making too significant reductions for programs like LIHEAP.”

 

 

Throughout the Northeast, the same bristling reaction took hold across the aisle and still-frozen plains of New England as US Senator Edward Markey reasoned on behalf of Massachusetts’ victims of the cuts that “the Trump budget brackets are rigged to make winners out of defense contractors and nuclear bomb makers, while seniors, working families and the environment have no chance to win…(leaving) 200,000 Massachusetts households literally out in the cold,” while colleague from across the aisle including the state’s Republican Governor Charlie Baker noted that the cuts in LIHEAP funding were off limits as they were “not just bad for Massachusetts, it’s bad for the country.”

 

 

The New Hampshire Union Leader took the impact from headline to frontline when they focused on the Community Action Agencies that would be hit by the proposed cut, spotlighting the Southern New Hampshire Services CAA, where Executive Director Donnalee Lozaeu reacted with the same refrain coming from organizations like hers around the state and country that “the proposal to eliminate so many of the programs that help the families we serve is very disheartening.  We are hopeful that our elected officials in the House and Senate who have supported and advocated for these programs over the years will be successful in maintaining them as they of course recognize their value.”

 

 

As news ripped through the heartland – clearly hitting HARD – Trump country was up in arms, with Community Action Agencies on the front lines of the war against “heat or eat” worried cuts in LIHEAP grants would force them to close up shop, leaving thousands of vulnerable families quite literally out in the cold, with Columbia-based Central Missouri Community Action Agency Chief Program Officer Angela Hirsh confirming that “as those services dwindle or are eliminated, you’re going to see a huge impact on the community.”  Northwestern Indiana Community Action was experiencing the same fears, with the Northwest Indiana Times pointing to the “more than 10,000 low income households…the agency has distributed home heating aid to” this winter alone, quoting Agency CEO Gary Olund on the matter of fact that “if cuts have to happen, we understand but not if its on the backs of folks who can least afford for that to happen.” Throughout the state level, even traditionally “conservative” leaning states raised immediate objections to the President’s proposal, with Kansas City City Star quoting City Councilwoman Alissia Canady in her matter-of-fact estimation that the cuts would “take the bottom out of our safety net,” and with an astounding 39,000+ families helped by LIHEAP in Kansas alone in 2016, with another 121,000+ households in neighboring Missouri, the KC Star noted that “in Missouri and Kansas, about 73 percent of those who received assistance had homes with elderly people, disabled people or young children.”

 

 

A reality rattling nervous Republicans all the way to Idaho, where tens of thousands of families depend on LIHEAP assistance to what the Idaho Statesman reported that in2016 “LIHEAP helped 30,659 households in Idaho pay $11.3 million in energy costs, such as home heating bills…(and) also supports energy-conservation and education programs, according to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.”  In neighboring South Dakota, concern was shared when the Argus Leader forecast that “thousands of South Dakotans could be left in the cold if Congress agrees to defund the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. The $3.4 billion program helped keep the heat on last winter for 22,175 people in the state who fell behind on their energy bills…Another program targeted by Trump for elimination, the $121 million Weatherization Assistance Program, offered insulation upgrades, duct work sealing and more to 186 other South Dakota families through grants through local aid agencies like Interlakes Community Action of Madison and Sioux Falls.  An energy auditor comes to a person’s home, checks for leaks and offer fixes that would drive down heating bill costs thereafter.”  Rejected by Republican lawmakers all the way from Alaska, U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski, Chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, stated unequivocally that  “I cannot support many of the proposed cuts…like LIHEAP,” arguing it was among programs “critical to the health, welfare, and safety of Alaskans, especially those in our remote, rural communities.”

 

 

Below is a running list of news stories cited in this article. Our team will continue to cultivate news coverage of the reaction to the proposed elimination of LIHEAP.

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