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Archive for Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Bush’s budget cuts could leave low-income residents in the cold

February 7, 2007

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President Bush's proposed budget for 2008 could mean that Lester Big Goose's family will lose federal funds that help it pay its heating bills, like many low-income American families. Big Goose raises his three daughters, from left, Levonna, 8, LeRain, 9, and Lauren, 13, alone while attending Kansas University. The Lawrence family is pictured Tuesday.

President Bush's proposed budget for 2008 could mean that Lester Big Goose's family will lose federal funds that help it pay its heating bills, like many low-income American families. Big Goose raises his three daughters, from left, Levonna, 8, LeRain, 9, and Lauren, 13, alone while attending Kansas University. The Lawrence family is pictured Tuesday.

Lester Big Goose Jr. didn't have any warm words Tuesday for President Bush's proposed $2.9 trillion budget.

Bush's plan includes a 56 percent cut in a federal energy assistance program. That cut could mean colder winters for Big Goose and his children.

"It's not surprising, coming from Bush," said Big Goose, a Kansas University senior who is a single father with three children. "It's something that's going to hurt a lot of low-income people like myself."

The Low Income Home Energy Assistance program would take a big hit under Bush's fiscal 2008 budget proposal. The program - which helps the elderly, people with disabilities and families with children - would be slashed from $3.2 billion to $1.8 billion.

About 50,000 Kansas households applied for the program last year and about 42,000 qualified for some assistance, said Lewis Kimsey, energy assistance director for Kansas.

Kimsey, who works for the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, said he wasn't sure what effect the proposed decrease in funding would have.

"Generally speaking, in broad terms, anybody that qualifies would receive a benefit," Kimsey said.

Kimsey predicted that if the number of families requesting aid remained the same, the average benefit would decline. Last year, the agency provided an average of $554 per family. Funding is largely based on income guidelines. To qualify for assistance, households need to have incomes at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty level, he said.

'Significant reduction'

Last year, there were 1,308 applications from Douglas County for the program, said Abbie Hodgeson, director of communications for Lawrence's SRS office.

Hodgeson said so far, 317 local households had applied for the program this year. Applications are being accepted until March 30, she said.

Hodgeson said the Bush budget's proposed 56 percent cut is only a recommendation.

"While it is a recommendation, if that were to be approved by Congress, it would mean a significant reduction in the amount we could provide to households as well as the number of households we could serve," she said.

'Tremendous' impact

Jeannette Colyer is coordinator for ECKAN, an agency that serves the low-income population in Douglas and surrounding counties.

She said the proposed funding cuts would hurt many local families.

"I have spent all day and will be spending most days until the end of March assisting families and individuals with their utility bills," Colyer said.

She said her own natural gas bill is higher than it has been in the last 12 years.

"The impact on individuals with fixed incomes is tremendous," she said. "I'm seeing people about every half hour Monday through Friday to process Warm Hearts applications, which is for our local program supported by Aquila and private donors, and also referring people for LIEAP, the federal program."

Warm Hearts, which provides households up to $350 a year in help for heating bills, is funded through the Aquila Cares program and private donations. Aquila is Lawrence's natural gas utility.

"It is taking the combination of both programs to actually provide the energy assistance that people need to get through the winter," Colyer said.

Getting through

One of those still planning to apply for assistance is Big Goose.

"I'm going to be applying and filling out the papers," Big Goose said. "We need to heat our home for the rest of the winter."

Big Goose said his heating bills now run about $80 to $90 a month.

"I try to turn off the heat as much as possible. And at night I try to make sure my daughters have blankets," Big Goose said. "I went to an agency to get some quilts to make sure they all have quilts so we don't have to use as much heat at night."

As part of the requirements to earn a degree in social work, Big Goose works at the local ECKAN office.

After he graduates in May, Big Goose said he likely wouldn't need such services but others would.

"There are a lot of other families and clients who come through here who depend on that to help them get through the winter," he said.

Comments

sourpuss 7 years, 10 months ago

Personally, I would rather pay to keep American children warm than to blow up Iraqi children. Oh, but I forgot, I'm not a Republican who holds life sacred. My bad.

girly 7 years, 10 months ago

Glad to see someone trying to obtain further education, but do we subsidize for that? I mean I can see getting financial aid for school if needed, but do they also qualify for public assistance due to low income/voluntary unemployment?

salad 7 years, 10 months ago

what a suprise, the neo-cons screwing the poor....again.

Centrist 7 years, 10 months ago

Cuts are sometimes necessary.

But programs to help people keep warm?

Come on America!

Centrist 7 years, 10 months ago

I have a better solution.

Some people who pay no taxes, still get a refund.

Let's stop that malarkey right there.

Centrist 7 years, 10 months ago

I'm referring to people who 'qualify' so that they get back more than what they put in. It's the hidden welfare benefit that no-one talks about.

You should NEVER get back more tax dollars than what are put in. That's just common sense.

Common sense reductions are what's needed in the short term for our government. Long term, we need to stop fighting unnecessary wars and the such.

Centrist 7 years, 10 months ago

Scenebooster ... agreed it might not be the most pressing, but you tell that to people who won't get as much assistance for their heating bills.

Besides, I'm responding to the article.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 7 years, 10 months ago

When it comes down to it, isn't it better to help someone try and get an education, so they will be better off financially? They will go on to pay more taxes than they ever received. If you just say too bad stay in the job you have or stay jobless, then they keep on needing aid.

staff04 7 years, 10 months ago

LIHEAP is one of the most successful social programs in the US, and the efforts by the White House have been consistent in trying to slash funding to it. Fortunately, the Members of Congress who have all the power to spend money believe that it is more important than the President. LIHEAP will not face a 56% cut. They try this every year, and every year Congress restores the funding.

Katara 7 years, 10 months ago

staff04, you are very correct about LIHEAP.

Another consequence from slashing LIHEAP is that a lot of other assistance programs such as Lifeline through the phone company will be affected be this.

LIHEAP is used as one of the qualifiers for several different types of assistance programs. Some may not qualify for TANF or other programs but if you qualify for LIHEAP, you can get assistance with other services.

EXks 7 years, 10 months ago

While 'W' is swinging the budget ax, let's cut corporate tax breaks (WELFARE), tax subsidies (another form of WELFARE) uncle Sam pays to farmers, social security benefits, medicare, etc.

Then we'll see the usual suspects whine and cry, not ME!!!

conservative 7 years, 10 months ago

Hey Mr. Toplikar.

Better check your math on your article.

The proposal from 3.2 to 1.8 is a 44% cut. It changes it to 56% of the current budget.

It would be REALLY nice to not have constant errors like this in this newspaper. The use of a proofreader to check math, grammar, and spelling would be a great improvement.

nogoodguy1us 7 years, 10 months ago

Hey hawkdperched, this is Mr. BigGoose if you have any questions you want answered, it says in the article where I work and where I go to school, all you have to do is come and ask. This goes to anybody who wants to find out, just man up and ask me.

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