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It’s hard to imagine a worse time to stop helping the poor pay their heating bills. Winter is getting under way in earnest, the economy is somewhere between extremely sluggish positive motion and the brink of global collapse.
But according to the Associated Press, thousands of families across the Northeast are preparing to have one of the worst winters ever, because of a ice cold combination: rising fuel prices and government cuts.
Congress is considering cutting $1 billion out of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which gave $4.7 billion to 9 million households last year. And several states in the region, where residents depend heavily on heating oil to get them through brutally cold winters, have already cut their aid to poor households who need help paying the heating bills.
Some say the results could be beyond uncomfortable—they could be dangerous.
Families in New England pay an average of $3,300 to heat their home during the winter, according to the head of the National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association. Compare that to the average income of assistance recipients in the northernmost state of Maine, which is just $16,757. Last year, the average benefit there was $800. This year, it might be as little as $300.
The cuts were proposed by President Obama last February. The House and Senate are reviewing funding some $3.4 billion and $3.6 billion respectively. But advocates still say it’s not enough.
“They’re playing Russian roulette with people’s lives,” Massachusetts aid-provider John Drew told AP. He says this year there’s been a 10 percent increase in applicants, suggesting aid to the poor should be increased, not reduced. “We have a lot of terrified people who can’t see how they are going to survive.”