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Sequester’s Cold Shoulder: 300,000 Families Cut from Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program

Winter means ice, snow, and – most depressing – slush. There are few things I hate more than slush. But I do love the holidays, and I appreciate having cold weather as an excuse to stay home and cozy up with a good book.

I’m lucky, though. I have a warm, cozy place to call home. That’s not true for everyone, and with ongoing budget cuts, it will be true for even fewer low-income families this year.

The National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association (NAEDA) reported recently on sequestration’s effects on the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). LIHEAP supports struggling families by assisting with energy costs, and the program is clearly a critical one as winter months approach. NAEDA describes the history of cuts in recent years, but the headline sums up this year’s impact: Sequester Cuts 300,000 Poor Families from LIHEAP.

In Fiscal Year 2013, 300,000 families were dropped from the program, as LIHEAP dealt with a $155 million reduction in funding. Since FY 2010, NAEDA states that close to $1.8 billion has been cut, resulting in fewer families receiving help with their heating and cooling bills. Those who do still receive assistance are getting less support than in the past.

AARP released its own report on the burden of heating costs on older Americans, detailing regional differences in costs and LIHEAP’s impact. Although the program provides crucial support to pay for heating, the gap between assistance and the actual cost to consumers is significant – and it’s growing. Average LIHEAP grants are expected to fall from $502 in 2009 to $375 in FY 2013, leaving poor families paying more out of pocket. But fuel costs continue to rise and many people – including older adults – are scrambling to keep their homes warm.

As we’ve pointed out before, women are disproportionately poor, and elderly women are particularly vulnerable. Many women rely on critical supports like LIHEAP to provide for their families. Ongoing cuts mean low-income families truly are being pushed to the brink. While families work to make ends meet, even the most fundamental needs – including a warm place to call home – are at risk.