PORTLAND, Maine — Bangor, Lewiston and Skowhegan would get hit hardest by cuts to federal heating assistance in President Donald Trump’s proposed 2018 budget.
Homes in those three communities were the top recipients of aid last year through the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which helps people pay for heating fuel.
The federal money also supports state weatherization programs. Maine’s plan is targeted to help populations most susceptible to hypothermia, primarily elderly residents and young children, with about 60 percent of the funds helping people pay heating costs.
Trump’s budget proposal says the program “is unable to demonstrate strong performance outcomes,” putting it on the chopping block next to a raft of programs his administration identified as underperforming.
The budget still has to make its way through Congress, where support for the program has cut across partisan lines. Gov. Paul LePage and members of Maine’s congressional delegation lined up in opposition to LIHEAP cuts made in 2011, during Democratic President Barack Obama’s administration.
That move cut LIHEAP funding almost in half, where it’s remained in recent years. The proposal to slash the program entirely stands to affect thousands of low-income Maine households who still benefit from the program come winter.
One person living alone must make $17,820 a year or less to qualify. It’s $36,450 to qualify for a family of four, with higher thresholds for households with someone particularly vulnerable to hypothermia, according to eligibility guidelines from MaineHousing.
Statewide, the program provided about $22 million to help 40,221 households pay heating costs last year. That works out to average aid of $546 for each home.
Data from the Maine State Housing Authority show where the bulk of that heating assistance went last year, when Bangor overtook Lewiston for the highest share of the state aid. Penobscot County received about 14 percent of the total aid.
While those communities received the largest distributions in heating assistance from the program, other farther-flung towns would face deeper cuts per household if the program’s funding disappeared.
In Lincoln County, for instance, the average benefit was $689 per household last year. Nine other counties had higher average benefits than Penobscot.
For some island communities, the data show a handful of LIHEAP recipients who used more than $1,000 in aid to pay for heating last year.
Among that group with the highest average benefits, the coastal communities of Machiasport and Nobleboro had the most households in the program.