LIHEAP utility funds on the line with Trump budget

PORT ANGELES — Nearly 3,200 people across the North Olympic Peninsula could lose funding that helps pay utility bills if Congress adopts President Donald J. Trump’s proposed budget.

The majority of the 1,519 households that Olympic Community Action Programs provides Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program funding for have children, senior citizens or people with disabilities, said Dale Wilson, OlyCAP executive director.

Wilson is concerned OlyCAP, which served 14,235 people last year, would need to scale back all or most of the nonprofit’s services if Trump’s proposed cuts are implemented.

“If his budget were to go through, every single thing OlyCAP does would be significantly affected,” he said. “Some things would not be in existence.”

Both LIHEAP and the Community Services Block Grant, which provides discretionary spending for OlyCAP, would be eliminated under Trump’s proposed budget.

Trump’s budget calls for a $54 billion increase in defense spending without adding to the federal deficit.

The proposed budget calls LIHEAP a lower-impact program that is “unable to demonstrate strong performance outcomes.”

Wilson said that’s not true.

“[Trump’s] claims that they don’t have verifiable good is irresponsible,” he said. “These are evidence-based programs that do what they say they are going to do.”

OlyCAP received $660,684 in LIHEAP funding for the 2016 program year and so far this year has received $553,879.

Wilson said the average household that receives funding was given about $450 last year.

To be eligible for LIHEAP, a single-person household would have to earn less than $14,850 annually.

A four-person household is required to earn less than $30,375 annually.

Last year, 1,134 children, 722 seniors and 954 people with disabilities benefited from LIHEAP in Clallam and Jefferson counties, he said.

“For the president to say [LIHEAP] doesn’t do any good — these folks don’t have a lot of options,” he said.

U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, a Port Angeles native, called the proposed cuts irresponsible and pledged to fight against the proposed budget.

“[LIHEAP] is a program that literally keeps seniors from being left out in the cold — helping folks who are living paycheck to paycheck or living on a fixed income to cover a spike in a power bill or to pay to repair a broken furnace,” Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, said.

“It’s a program that has had bipartisan support because Democrats and Republicans all acknowledge that seniors shouldn’t have to choose between buying groceries and keeping their heat on in the winter.”

Kilmer represents Washington’s sixth legislative district, which includes Clallam and Jefferson counties.

In fiscal year 2014, the most recent year for which data is available, LIHEAP provided help with home heating and cooling to 6.8 million low-income households across the country, according to Kilmer’s office.

The proposed CSBG cut would force OlyCAP to scale back all or most of its services, Wilson said.

He said last year OlyCAP received about $150,000 in CSBG funds, which provides flexible spending for the nonprofit.

“I term it as the lifeblood of community action groups,” he said. “It supplements programs that have [funding] restrictions.”

The CSBG cut would put many community action agencies at risk of closing their doors, he said.

He said with the proposed cuts, he’d have little funding for administration costs and would need to find volunteers.

Wilson said the goal for community action agencies across the country now is to work with lawmakers in hopes of keeping Trump’s cuts out of the budget.

“Let’s work this through with representatives and senators,” he said. “They know what we do.”

Source: Peninsula Daily News