Low-income heating programs on the chopping block
More than 100,000 low-income households in Minnesota would be affected if Congress gives the go-ahead to President Donald Trump's proposal to eliminate two federal heating-assistance programs.
For the second consecutive year, Trump is proposing to eliminate the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program and the Weatherization Assistance Program, two programs that help low-income residents pay for heating costs, furnace repairs and energy-efficiency upgrades. Despite the programs being on the chopping block in Trump's budget last year, Congress appropriated about $3 billion for the Energy Assistance Program, but has yet to appropriate any funding in fiscal year 2018 for the Weatherization Assistance Program.
Although the Minnesota Department of Commerce oversees the programs, the Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Agency implements the programs in the Northland.
Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith support the inclusion of funding for the two programs in the 2019 budget, saying the programs keep Minnesota recipients from choosing between heating their homes and other basic necessities.
"The importance of LIHEAP cannot be understated — especially in places like Minnesota that experience bitterly cold temperatures and lengthy winters," Klobuchar and Smith wrote in a Jan. 31 joint letter to the Office of Management and Budget.
Minnesota's distribution of the Energy Assistance Program funding fluctuates from year to year, from just slightly more than $102.2 million last year to $135 million in 2014, when the state needed an additional $20 million during the polar vortex winter, according to the Minnesota Department of Commerce. The Weatherization Assistance Program is smaller — Minnesota received $9.7 million for it in 2017.
About 126,000 Minnesota households, totalling 320,000 residents, were served last year by the Energy Assistance Program, which pays the benefit directly to the utility or energy vendor on behalf of the household, according to the Minnesota Department of Commerce. The average annual household income for residents who received assistance was $17,900. About 75 percent of the households include seniors, children younger than 5 years old or people with disabilities, and two-thirds of the households are located outside of the Twin Cities, the commerce department reported.