Brown opposes US cuts to heat aid

By Matt Murphy
Stae House News Service / February 11, 2011

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US Senator Scott Brown joined his Democratic Congressional colleagues from Massachusetts yesterday to oppose a proposed $2.5 billion cut by the Obama administration to home heating fuel assistance for low-income households, which would jeopardize aid to thousands of state residents.

With freezing temperatures, Bay State politicians urged the Obama administration to abandon its plan to slash federal home heating fuel assistance, known as the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

The president is trying to rein in the federal deficit and trim spending in his fiscal 2012 budget proposal due next week.

Obama’s budget proposal for fiscal 2012 has been reported to contain a cut of $2.5 billion to the energy assistance program, which would reduce the aid to low-income residents by half for fuel this winter.

“I can point to countless items in the President’s budget that should be cut before [energy] funding,’’ Brown said in a statement provided to State House News Service. “With Massachusetts residents getting pounded by brutal winter storms, cutting . . . funding is a nonstarter for me.’’

This winter, Massachusetts has received $181.7 million in energy funding from the US government and anticipates that more than 216,000 individuals and families will qualify for help this year, up from the 206,000 households served last year, according to the US Department of Housing and Community Development.

US Senator John F. Kerry wrote a letter to the Obama administration Wednesday urging the administration to preserve home energy funding at its fiscal 2010 level of $5.1 billion.

“I’ve always supported serious efforts to restore fiscal sanity, but in the middle of a brutal, even historic, New England winter, home heating assistance is more critical than ever to the health and welfare of millions of Americans, especially senior citizens,’’ Kerry wrote.

Governor Deval Patrick and Kerry have also sent letters over the past few months pressing for fuel assistance to be preserved despite concerns over US spending levels.

The US Department of Health and Human Services announced an additional $1.6 billion in home energy assistance block grant funds on Jan. 11, and the Obama administration tapped a contingency fund two weeks later for an additional $200 million in emergency aid. That brought funding available for fiscal 2011 to $4.14 billion.

At a press conference in Washington Wednesday before news of Obama’s plan became public, US Representative Edward J. Markey of Malden excoriated Republicans for considering a cut to heating assistance as they prepare to debate a resolution on funding for the remainder of the fiscal year.

“It takes a frigid heart for Republicans to continue to defend tax breaks for oil and gas companies, while putting heating fuel assistance for America’s neediest on the chopping block,’’ Markey said, according to a copy of his prepared remarks. “. . . Millions of families could have their heating cut off this winter.’’