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Policy Matters Ohio

Home energy programs supported in 2018 U.S. budget, 2019 uncertain

March 28, 2018

Home energy programs supported in 2018 U.S. budget, 2019 uncertain

March 28, 2018



President Trump wants to pull the plug on federal programs that help millions of families across the country keep warm during cold winters and cool in hot summers. He’d also permanently scrap federal aid for programs that help make homes more efficient. Congress protected critical energy programs in the 2018 funding bill passed March 23, 2018. But danger remains for 2019 because of the President’s ongoing opposition to these programs.

The Trump tax bill gives hundreds of billions of dollars to the wealthy and corporate CEOs and balloons the deficit. His 2019 budget proposal would pay for it by eliminating essential services that support families struggling to make ends meet, like the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP). That’s a real danger to Ohio, with its temperature swings and old housing stock. A bi-partisan group of 45 senators, including Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), have pushed back and protected the programs. They will have to keep up the good work.

Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)

Trump’s proposed budget for 2019 would end LIHEAP, a federal program that serves every state in the nation. Last year LIHEAP distributed $3.4 billion in aid to around 6 million households nationally, and has been approved at this level for 2018 in the new federal budget bill. Ohio received approximately $148 million in LIHEAP funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services between July 1, 2016 and June 30, 2017, and 487,620 Ohio households across all 88 counties requested this assistance. The Development Services Agency administers the program for Ohio. Ohioans with a household income at or below 175 percent of the federal poverty level — $43,050 for a family of four — are eligible.

In a 2017 letter protesting the cut proposed for 2018, the group of 45 senators said: “More than 90 percent of LIHEAP recipients have at least one household member who is a child, elderly, or disabled, and the percentage of households with at least one veteran has grown to 20 percent. The program helps to ensure that eligible recipients do not have to choose between paying their energy bills and affording other necessities like food and medicine.” Their letter helped preserve the program over the past winter. But danger remains on the horizon, because Trump again proposed the elimination for 2019.

Home Weatherization Assistance Program

In his 2018 budget request, Trump proposed to eliminate the Weatherization Assistance Program, which helps make houses energy efficient so utility bills are lower on a permanent basis. Instead, Congress boosted funding by 10 percent, which will help low-income families and seniors make home improvements that improve energy efficiency and health. As with LIHEAP, the Ohio Development Services Agency passes federal dollars through to local agencies for home weatherization services. A total of $33.3 million worth of these services was provided across Ohio in 2016-17. Ohioans with a household income at or below 200 percent of poverty — $49,200 for a family of four — can get help with home weatherization.

Senators had also pushed back on the proposed cut, pointing out that the WAP “helped reduce the burden of high energy prices for more than 40 years by helping low-income families, seniors, and individuals with disabilities make necessary energy efficient improvements to their homes.” Their work to protect this important program succeeded, but they will have to remain vigilant going into 2019.

Conclusion

Ohio’s average hourly wage is lower than the nation’s. Seven of the state’s 10 biggest occupational groups – like fast food, retail, janitorial, hospitality – have such low average wages that a family of three would qualify for help paying utility bills as well as other programs to help them afford the basics. Programs like LIHEAP and WAP are essential supports for Ohioans struggling to get by. President Trump has done a disservice to far too many Ohioans with tax policies that send hundreds of billions of dollars to the wealthy and budget policies that eliminate essential supports for struggling families. Congress prevented a dismantling of these important programs this year, but the fight goes on.

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