On Heating Assistance for the Poor, Defending the Indefensible

The effort that helps poor people pay their heating bills – the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) – was launched in the 1970s with revenue from the “excess profit tax” (ah, those were the days!) on oil companies. Now, apparently, both Republicans and the Obama Administration agree that there’s not enough money to continue funding the program at current levels.

At today’s Huffington Post, the always-reliable Sam Stein provides a wonderful account of the hemming and hawing Energy Secretary Steven Chu was forced to resort to as he defended the Administration’s proposed $2.5 billion cut in LIHEAP funding. Defending the indefensible is difficult, even for a Nobel Laureate.

LIHEAP is a rubber-meets-the-road program. It is not sexy – not like converting some old technology to “green technology.” It is not high profile; those who benefit, the nation’s lowest income people living below the poverty line, are not typically the subjects of sympathetic newspaper profiles or television news segments.

It is, rather, pretty basic. Thanks to LIHEAP, millions of low-income Americans do not face the prospect of having the local utility company shut-off their heat in the middle of winter. They get to stay warm. It’s that simple. Bottom line: If the program is cut as planned, people will freeze.

So much for “winning the future.”


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