Cold War: Proposed Budget Cuts To Heating Program Draw Swift Backlash

Feb 14, 2011 4:21pm

ABC News’ Matthew Jaffe reports:

Amidst all the talk on Capitol Hill about how the White House’s proposed spending cuts don’t go far enough, it’s worth noting the real backlash that even some of the relatively minor proposed cuts have triggered.

One issue that appears to have really struck a nerve, especially with Democrats, is the White House proposal to cut by half the funds for a program that provides heating assistance to the poor.

The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) currently enjoys $5.1 billion in funding, but under the new budget it would be cut to $2.5 billion.

It should come as no surprise that lawmakers from cold weather states have wasted no time weighing in with their displeasure.

The Massachusetts delegation – with Sens. John Kerry and Scott Brown, along with Reps. Ed Markey, Barney Frank, Richard Neal, John Olver, John Tierney, Jim McGovern, Michael Capuano, Stephen Lynch, Niki Tsongas, and William Keating – today wrote to Congressional leaders asking them to keep funding for the program at its current levels.

“We all appreciate that difficult decisions have to be made this budget cycle to restore fiscal sanity and begin to tackle the debt,” they wrote. “However, this year Massachusetts, and many other parts of the country, have seen record breaking low temperatures and brutal storm conditions. LIHEAP ensures that families can heat their homes, that senior citizens aren't forced to choose between their next meal and staying warm, and helps those who live in the North East to cope with the winter despite record high home heating oil costs.”

“By cutting LIHEAP at this critical time it is estimated that over 3 million American families that qualify for heating assistance would not receive it.  As it is LIHEAP is already underfunded. We hear stories every winter from our constituents about the lack of assistance available and the difficulty they have heating their homes. We understand that increasing the LIHEAP program might not be possible this year because of the budget constraints but cutting the program in half would simply be devastating.”

Their pleas echo those of Sen. Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat who last week – before the budget had even been released – ripped the White House’s plan to reduce the program’s funding while at the same time shelling out billions for high-speed rail.

“Talk about misplaced, off-track priorities,” Tester said. “I won’t support a budget that dumps billions of dollars into high-speed rail while cutting something as basic as heat for family homes across Montana and America. We need a common sense budget that creates jobs and cuts spending, but we can’t afford a budget that hurts rural America.”

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