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Editorial: Winter is far colder for some than for others

If New Hampshire’s congressional delegation needs a reason to vote for the new federal budget agreement reached this week, here’s one: Vote for it, and the amount of money set aside to help poor people in New Hampshire pay their heating bills this winter won’t be quite as miserly as it might have been otherwise.

This is what passes for good news out of Washington these days. Advocates for needy families were worried that automatic “sequestration” budget cuts were going to make a bad situation worse; now, it seems, in a particularly frigid week, that has been averted.

At issue is LIHEAP – the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. It’s among the most basic types of assistance the federal government makes available, but it’s not universally championed in Congress because some states are obviously bigger users of the program than others.

New Hampshire uses the money to help households unable to pay their heating bills during the winter. The program also provides emergency help when eligible residents are running out of fuel. And families facing the threat of disconnection can receive grants to pay their bills and stop a shut-off.

But federal heating assistance money has been shrinking for several years. In the winter of 2008-09, for instance, the state received $51 million, with which it was able to help more than 44,000 people. Participants got an average benefit of $929.

That was the last time the state was able to give a really meaningful heating assistance benefit to those in need. Since then, the state’s share of the federal program has fallen precipitously, though the cost of heating fuel has not. Last winter, New Hampshire got $24 million and used it to help 37,000 people; the average benefit was $732. For this winter, the state has certified 20,522 residents as eligible for help; so far it has been promised $22.1 million.

If the state got more money, it could expand the pool of eligible residents, increase the size of benefits or some of both. Most important, says Celeste Lovett, the state fuel assistance program manager, is for potential clients to sign up through their local Community Action Program office so officials know who’s out there and might be in need.

Assuming the new federal budget deal is approved, New Hampshire’s delegation should work hard to make sure as much of that money as possible is set aside for fuel assistance. But perhaps equally important would be this: working on a longer-term plan to help needy families switch from heating with oil to something less pricey and less subject to roller-coaster pricing. Switching from oil to natural gas or even stoves that burn renewable and locally-produced wood pellets could help household budgets tremendously. But the conversion isn’t free, and federal tax incentives are little help to low-income residents.

In the meantime, many households, including some with young children and disabled or elderly members, won’t have enough money to stay warm this winter. Local welfare offices and charitable organizations are too strapped to begin to make up the difference. But even in this era of budget cuts, it makes no economic or moral sense, to allow one’s fellow Americans to shiver or freeze.

The members of Congress from New Hampshire sounded the alarm about the real harm to home-heating assistance that would come from the sequester cuts. But even with those averted, it will be an unnecessarily difficult winter for too many of their constituents.

Legacy Comments2

Hogwash! Of to keep talking and writing about helping the poor, of whoever wrote this editorial be of no doubt among those of who live ABOVE* the poverty line, but still insist that those BELOW the poverty line pay for the education of their* children in the government schools in what is indeed a Reverse Robin Hood plan of anti "Free to Choose" of to rob from the poor to give to the rich*. Such a system is un-lawful as in un-constitutional as against the "frugality" clause in N.H. Article 38 of our Bill of Rights to help the poor of those in "need" - yes, but not BOTH the rich * AND poor! Come on, get with it! Stop this crocodile tears cry-baby mentality now! Hypocrites! If we all helped ONLY the poor, then those currently receiving subsidy from the poor or working-poor, of those paying such to the higher-ups would no longer be poor and so not "need"ing $ assistance; some of which assistance be not temporary, but of permanent status of supporting generations of poor within the same family for years, decades and now into two centuries of welfare later. Enough is enough! especially for having to pay the un-lawful state-wide education property tax* that your local officials supposedly took an RSA Ch. 42:1, 92:2 and Article 84 oath to honor the law, not this unlawful statute! but that they still send you the tax bill, and if of poor and with a non-claimed abatement application by March 1st ought to be last and least on the list of recipients of these Federal funds. * = "per the Supreme Court case of 1997: "The majority holds today that the present system of taxation to provide funding to meet this constitutional duty violates part II, article 5 of the State Constitution, because it is not reasonable or proportional. " nor wholesome " " plus where be the N.H. Art. 5, Part 2 "consent" from the Executive Council to the Commissioner of the Dept. of Revenue to send out these Tax Warrants in the first place? (;-) Of ALL taxes un-lawful without it!

Sorry Joe, I'd love to hear your thoughts and ideas, but I can't get through a single one of your posts. Subject/verb agreement much? I'm gonna start callin' you "lil' Dubya."

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