WASHINGTON — Three New England senators are pushing a bill to prevent deep spending cuts in the federal home heating assistance program that they say could imperil thousands of poor and elderly people this winter.
Sens. Olympia Snowe of Maine, Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Jack Reed of Rhode Island said Wednesday they want $4.7 billion for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, the same amount provided by the government to states last winter.
With wintry weather closing in, the economy still struggling and home heating oil prices running higher this year, states do not know how much money they will receive for the program this winter because Congress has yet to decide. Many states have cut benefit levels.
“This is absolutely a travesty,” Snowe, a Republican, said of the expected cuts. “This is a program that can really make the difference between life and death.”
Because the region relies more heavily than other parts of the country on costly oil heat, New England states are expected to be especially hard hit.
Sanders, an independent, said his office has received many email and phone messages from people who are “terribly frightened” about not being able to stay warm this winter.
“In many cases it comes down to not only whether or not people can be comfortable, but survive,” said Reed, a Democrat.
President Barack Obama has proposed cutting the program nearly in half, to about $2.5 billion, this winter. The House is considering $3.4 billion for fuel assistance while the Senate weighs a $3.6 billion proposal.
Given the budget-cutting pressures and huge budget deficits confronting Congress, the measure is expected to face an uphill fight.
Correction: The headline on an early version of this story misattributed Sen. Olympia Snowe's comments to Sen. Susan Collins.