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Trump budget proposes cutting home heating help to nearly 28,000 NH households

New Hampshire Union Leader

March 16. 2017 3:19PM

The program that helps thousands of low-income Granite Staters heat their homes is still open for this year, but it could be cut altogether from the federal budget.

President Trump’s budget request proposes eliminating the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which is helping 27,837 New Hampshire households.

The administration’s budget blueprint released Thursday says that LIHEAP “is a lower-impact program and is unable to demonstrate strong performance outcomes.”

Celeste Lovett, administrator of the Fuel Assistance Program, which is the state’s arm of the federal LIHEAP, said New Hampshire has received $25,381,123 in federal funds for 2016-2017. Lovett declined to directly address Trump’s proposed budget, noting it is early in the process. But she said the assistance program is vital to vulnerable households in the state.

Of the 27,837 households assisted, 3,727 are new to the program and another 3,188 households received help in a previous year.

The funding is through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The state Office of Energy and Planning administers the program and contracts with local Community Action Agencies to perform the on-the-ground work.

This is the last weekend of winter, with the spring equinox arriving Monday, but funds are still available for needy households. Interested applicants should contact their local Community Action Programs.

Donnalee Lozeau, executive director of Southern New Hampshire Services, the Community Action agency representing Hillsborough and Rockingham counties, is in Washington for the National Community Action Foundation’s annual conference. She said she and many colleagues are concerned with the budget blueprint.

“The proposal to eliminate so many of the programs that help the families we serve is very disheartening,” Lozeau responded by email. “We are hopeful that our elected officials in the House and Senate who have supported and advocated for these programs over the years will be successful in maintaining them as they of course recognize their value.”

LIHEAP funding is a perennial favorite subject for the congressional delegation, and gets bipartisan support.

U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster, D-NH, said the assistance is of particular importance for those struggling to make ends meet while keeping warm throughout winter.

“LIHEAP is a lifeline for low-income families and seniors in the Granite State during the cold winter months and the elimination of such a successful and necessary program is cruel,” Kuster said. “This request underscores how out of touch President Trump’s budget priorities are with the needs of people throughout the country.”

U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, said Trump, when he was a candidate, never campaigned in the Granite State on cutting home heating help. The administration said his budget blueprint of discretionary funding came from ideas discussed on the campaign trail.

"Without home heating assistance, tens of thousands of Granite Staters will have to choose between heating their homes and other necessities like food and medicine," Shaheen said.

The average obligated benefit for Fuel Assistance Program recipients is $646. Benefits are calculated based on several factors, including income levels, energy costs, the type of housing, and the number of cold-weather days in a winter season. An estimated 45 percent of qualifying households have at least one member who is disabled, according to the state program.

Federal funding via the program to New Hampshire has dropped notably over the past decade. In the 2008-2009 year, a season in which fuel costs were expected to soar, the base grant was $50.9 million. The following year the base grant was $36 million.

The President’s budget request proposes notable spending increases for national security, including a $52 billion increase for the Department of Defense. He has targeted other domestic programs for elimination, such as the Community Development Block Grant program, at a projected savings of $3 billion. The CDBG program, which was launched in 1974, “is not well-targeted to the poorest populations and has not demonstrated results,” according to the President’s blueprint.

CDBG funds, however, course through local and state government in New Hampshire. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development administers the program. In the most recent disbursement report posted online, for 2014, more than $8.6 million in CDBG funds were received in the Granite State. The money supports various initiatives, from public housing rehabilitation projects to child care centers.

For 2014, $26,500 was disbursed statewide to support programs for abused and neglected children. In Portsmouth, $11,250 was used that year to offset operating costs for a homeless/AIDS patient program. In Dover, $5,250 was used for battered and abused spouses. In Nashua, $54,955 was disbursed to support youth programming and youth centers.

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