WASHINGTON – President Obama’s 2012 budget proposes to cut in half funding for home energy assistance to poor households in Texas and across the country.
The budget,released Feb. 14,would allocate $2.57 billion to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance program,down from the $5.1 billion it was allocated in 2010 and 2011. The program assists households that pay a high portion of income on heating and cooling bills.
The cuts would come at a time when a record number of households are expected to request LIHEAP funds,according to Mark Wolfe,executive director of the National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association.
In Texas,for example,he expects 30,000 households to apply for help in 2011,a 17 percent increase from the year before.
Under the 2012 budget,Wolfe said Texas would receive $49.7 million in 2012,less than half of what it received in 2010.
“That’s an awful lot of money to take away for families in Texas,” Wolfe said. “Cutting LIHEAP is asking for the poorest families to contribute significantly to cut the deficit,which doesn’t really make sense.”
In 2010,Texas was allocated a $183.6 million LIHEAP block grant as well as $27 million in contingency funds,released during extreme weather conditions or energy price increases.
The budget reflects a government that is tightening its belt and looking toward the future,Office of Management and Budget Director Jacob Lew said at a news conference the day the budget was released. He said the cuts to LIHEAP would bring funding for the program to 2008 levels – before “a huge spike in energy prices” led to doubled-up funding – because home energy price levels are now closer to what they were then.
According to data published by the Energy Information Administration,natural gas prices will go down by 2.1 percent this winter.
“Looking at our fiscal challenges,we can’t just straight-line the program at $5 billion,” Lew said. “We have gone back to the level it was at when prices were roughly the same.”
The home energy assistance program received the largest cut in Obama’s budget proposal within the Administration for Children and Families. Other programs within this branch of the Department of Health and Human Services,such as Head Start,would receive millions in additional funding.
“We’ve been very clear that we need to create more opportunities to invest in education,in innovation and in building the infrastructure for the future,” he said. “We’ve had tough tradeoffs.”
Department of Health and Human Service Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the cuts would not have been made in better fiscal times.
“Where we found waste,we cut it,” Sebelius said Feb. 14 at the department’s budget briefing. “We can’t build a lasting prosperity over a mountain of debt.”
In Texas,the home energy assistance program is administered by the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs. Most of the money is allocated to the Comprehensive Energy Assistance program,which helps eligible households pay up to eight of their highest utility bills per year. The department sets aside 15 percent of the funds for the Weatherization Assistance Program,which helps low-income households control energy costs through weather-stripping,caulking,wall and ceiling insulation and heating system improvements.
To be eligible for LIHEAP assistance in Texas,a household’s income must not exceed twice the poverty level,which is equal or less than 60 percent of the median income level.
Sara Dorn also contributed to this story