Congress is cool to Trump’s proposal to end heating aid

PORTLAND, Maine — The summer air is sizzling as the Fourth of July approaches, yet 86-year-old Richard Perkins already worries about how he’s going to stay warm this winter.

President Donald Trump has proposed eliminating heating aid for low-income Americans, claiming it’s no longer necessary and rife with fraud. People needn’t worry about being left in the cold, he says, because utilities cannot cut off customers in the dead of winter.

But he is wrong on all counts.

The heating program provides a critical lifeline for people like Perkins, and officials close to the program don’t see any widespread fraud. Guidelines for winter shutoffs by utilities vary from state to state and don’t apply to heating oil, a key energy source in the brittle New England winter.

“It’s beyond my thinking that anyone could be that cruel,” said Perkins, a retired restaurateur who relies on the program to keep warm in Ogunquit, Maine.

The proposal to kill the program, which has distributed $3.4 billion to about 6 million households this fiscal year, will face strong opposition in Congress.

Forty-three senators from mostly cold-weather states already signed a letter urging the Republican chairman and ranking Democrat on an appropriations subcommittee to ensure funding for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, known in many states by its acronym, LIHEAP (pronounced LY’-heep).

In Maine, the poorest state in New England, the program helped about 77,000 people over the past winter, and those numbers represented less than a quarter of eligible households, said Deborah Turcotte of MaineHousing, which helps to run the program.

Perkins is a typical recipient.

His income was fine 10 or 12 years ago when he retired, but gasoline, food and other expenses grew faster than he anticipated. In the winter, he keeps an eye on his oil storage tank, and the local community action agency sends 100 gallons when it gets low.