More for war while the poor freeze
Online Journal Associate Editor
Oct 24, 2007, 01:24
George W. Bush's notion of fiscal
responsibility is to spend as much as he can get away with on the military,
give away as much tax money as he can in the form of tax cuts for the
ultra-rich and contracts for his friends in industry, and then to balance the
budget on the backs of poor and middle-class Americans. In the process, the man
who claims to lead a "global war on terror" terrorizes millions of
people in the United States.
His latest act of fiscal terror on the
American people is to threaten a veto of the Labor, Health and Human Services
appropriations bill as too expensive. This bill provides funding for many
programs that are important to the well-being of America's poor and middle
class. LIHEAP, the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program is among
them. Right now, 38 million low-income American households are eligible for
assistance to pay their energy bills. But LIHEAP can help only 16 percent of
those households. In contrast to budgets for American weapons of mass
destruction, LIHEAP's budget has increased by only $300 million since it
started in 1981.
The White House is proposing a 44 percent cut
from FY 2006 in LIHEAP funding levels, a cut that will mean reducing individual
grants of assistance and dropping 1.1 million households from the program
Mark Wolfe, executive director of NEADA, the National Energy Assistance Directors' Association,
the primary educational and policy organization for the state and tribal
directors of the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance
Program (LIHEAP), said in a phone interview with me that more and more people
are seeking help with their energy bills.
"It's not just the very, very poor
anymore. Now what we're finding [is] these families making $25-35,000 a year --
families that you kind of think of as working families -- coming in and asking
for assistance because the bills have gotten just so high. The real problem
that we're facing is that energy prices are going up. They're continuing to go
up. The era of cheap energy is over."
The Energy Department predicts that the cost
for heating oil will be up 22 percent over last winter. DOE is also forecasting
a 16 percent increase for propane, 10 percent for natural gas and 4 percent for
residential electricity. The estimates may be low if oil prices continue
In July of this year, NEADA completed the
first national survey of utility arrearages and shut-offs. Based on a sample of
11 states representing 25 percent of all households, an estimated 1.2 million
households have been disconnected from electric and natural gas service in the
March through May period following the expiration of state shut-off moratoriums.
The report said that many states believe that the numbers this year are
higher than in the past as a result of increasing electric and natural gas
rates coupled with a cutback this year in the funding for LIHEAP. The program
had $3.2 billion in FY 2006 and funding level of $2.1 billion in FY 2007. Bush
wants to cut the program back to $1.78 billion in FY 2008. Contrast that to the
defense authorization bill for FY 2008, which calls for $648.8 billion in
military spending, and that doesn't count the Department of Energy's military
spending, Bush's "off-budget" war spending, or the black projects
that don't show up in congressional budget figures.
Wolfe wants to see the government step in to
help the poor meet their energy needs. "We really have to guarantee a
minimum level of access to home energy. It really is a public health situation
and it really can be life or death. People really do cut back on their medicine
and they do make choices that really aren't in the interests of public health.
Last February, when Bush first called for the
LIHEAP cut, NEADA estimated that, among the households currently receiving home
percent have at least one member who is elderly, disabled, a child under
18, or has a single adult living with one or more children. More than
three quarters reported an annual income at or below $20,000,
percent have an annual income at or below the federal poverty level.
percent have someone in their household that has asthma, emphysema, heart
disease, or stroke, and
percent have someone who uses necessary medical equipment that requires
electricity, most commonly nebulizers, oxygen machines, and other machines
to provide assistance with breathing.
Wolfe told me that some choices the very poor
make include heating their homes with candles, or with the stove. This is a
�When we look at this we really think the
government clearly has a role in helping these low income families adjust these
prices,� Wolfe said. �As I think about it, that's really what you'd expect from
a decent government and that's what we should be doing."
� 2007 Kellia Ramares. Not-for-profit distribution is strongly
Kellia Ramares is a
journalist in Oakland, CA. Her website is Radio
Internet Story Exchange.
You can also find her on Newsvine.
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