President Obama today defended his plan to cut by half the home energy assistance program, which tens of thousands of New Englanders rely on to help pay their home heating bills.
"On the LIHEAP program, the home heating assistance program, we doubled the home heating assistance program when I first came into office in part because there was a huge energy spike, and so folks, if we just kept it at the same level, folks would have been in real trouble,'' Obama said at a press conference, in response to a question about unpopular cuts in his newly released budget proposal. "Energy prices have now gone down but the cost of the program has stayed the same. So what we've said is let's go back to a more sustainable level.''
Funding for the program had been boosted to $5.1 billion for this fiscal year, but House Republicans are seeking immediate cuts, before all the money is disbursed. In the president's budget for the next fiscal year, the money allocated would be cut to $2.6 billion. Both efforts to pare the program have been denounced by Bay State legislators.
US Representative Edward Markey, a Malden Democrat, has been the Democrats point person on GOP efforts to cut at least $400 million from the program this year. He is offering an amendment to restore proposed cuts.
“Cutting off funds for this program now means that millions of families could have their heating cut off,” said Markey last week. “These families would be forced to decide once again between heating and eating.”
Both Republican Scott Brown and Democrat John F. Kerry in the Senate have urged Obama to reconsider cuts next year.
At the press conference today, Obama said his administration would be open to adding money to the program as needed.
"If it turns out that, once again, you see a huge energy spike, then we can revisit it, but let's not just assume because it's at a $5 billion level that each year we're going to sustain it at a $5 billion level regardless of what's happening on the energy front," he said. "Now, that doesn't mean that, you know, these aren't still tough cuts. Because they're always more people who could use some help across the country than we have resources. And so it's still a tough decision, and I understand people's frustrations with some of these decisions."
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.