The White House released President Obama’s Budget for 2012 Tuesday. It would eliminate or reduce funding to a total of 200 government programs for a savings of $33 billion in 2012 alone. In total, half of all government agencies would see funding cuts from 2010 levels and one of the programs facing the chopping block is aid to help low-income families pay their heating bills.
As the budget rolled off the printing presses, agencies in Central Indiana that provide home heating assistance were scrambling to come up with a plan.
“If it's going to take down already committed dollars or if it's just going to say from now on, you don't have as much money to bring in new people. Either way it's going to cause problems," Lynn Engel said.
She’s President and CEO of Connect2Help, an organization in Indianapolis that works to align people in need with agencies that provide assistance.
“In 2010, almost 15,000 people called for help with utility assistance," she said.
United Way is one of the agencies that supplements those government dollars.
“We can certainly enhance and add to, but we cannot cover the scale of what the federal government does for some of these families who just cannot pay those high winter bills," Ellen Annala, the organization’s President and CEO, said.
According to Citizen's Gas, this December was 20% colder than the same month last year and January was almost 7% colder than last year. Correspondingly higher utility bills are just now arriving on customers’ doorsteps and the aid's dried up.
“What we really need is for the government to release some of those funds that they have,” said Harry Johnson, Family Development Coordinator for Forest Manor, a community service center that provides all sorts of family aid.
Now that looks increasingly unlikely and Forest Manor's clients, like Georgia Turner, face tough choices about how to stretch already thin budgets.
“With medications going up and utilities going up, the money just won't go any further," she said.
“It's distressing when we hear about cuts to safety-net programs because there aren't really good options for many people who are out of work," Ellen Annala said.
Connect2Help suggests that if you're having trouble paying your utility bills, it’s a good idea to let your utility company know as soon as possible. Frequently, they'll work out payment plans that will help you get caught up -- but keep in mind that in order to qualify for aid, many of the community assistance programs require that you have at least paid something toward over-due accounts, so don’t ignore those bills.