PORTLAND — The Trump administration is once again calling for the complete elimination of a heating assistance program that helps to keep the homes of low-income families warm. And once again, program supporters are vowing to fight it.
The administration is using the same arguments from a year ago when it tried to abolish the program, saying it’s rife with fraud and that no one would be left freezing if the program goes away.
“These arguments are very misleading and wrong,” said Mark Wolfe, director of the National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association in Washington, D.C.
The program, known as LIHEAP — Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program — helps families pay their heating bills primarily in the form of a grant that’s sent directly to utility companies or heating fuel vendors.
President Donald Trump tried to eradicate the program last year, but encountered resistance in Congress. In October, he released nearly $3 billion, or roughly 90 percent, of the funding.
Critics say that money won’t go as far as in past years because of rising prices.
Nonetheless program supporters say LIHEAP is a lifeline for the elderly, disabled and others on fixed incomes.
“If the president turned around and did away with that funding, I have no idea how we’d survive in the winter,” said Dwayne LaBrecque, a diabetic who is on disability after losing several toes and part of his foot to infection.
LaBrecque’s income plummeted when he lost his job as a shipping manager, leaving him to cobble together an existence for himself, his fiancee and their five children in the rural Maine town of Hartford. The family received about $1,000 in heating assistance this winter, and that money is already gone.
The Trump supporter said he hopes the president has a change of heart. He said he won’t be voting for Trump again if he succeeds in killing off the program.
The president’s 2019 budget was released Monday and would cut other social programs like federal housing assistance and the food stamp program, in addition to eliminating heating aid.
Like last year, the proposal faces an uphill fight in Congress.
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent, told the White House budget director that that the Trump administration is creating “a situation where people will go cold, some may freeze to death.”
LIHEAP is popular in both cold weather and warm weather states, like Florida and Arizona, where it also distributes money to keep people keep cool in the summer. All told, the program helps 6 million households.
A group of 45 senators asked the president to maintain energy assistance and weatherization assistance programs.
A dangerous stretch of cold weather around the New Year underscored the need for the program, said Sen. Angus King, an independent from Maine. And Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire called gutting the program “dangerous and unacceptable.”
Republican Sen. John Hoeven, of North Dakota, a member of the Appropriations Committee, said he’ll fight for the program that provides “vital resources” to help those in need keep their homes safe and warm and “to make ends meet.”