Mirlande Pierre hated coming home last winter. She knew it would be cold inside.
“Every time I opened the door, it was like I was still outside,” said Pierre.
Pierre’s family went without heat the year before that too. They couldn’t afford it and had a hard time enrolling in LIHEAP, the federal program that provides low-income families with grants to cover utilities in the winter.
Pierre, her husband and their five children relied on space heaters to keep their Philadelphia home habitable.
That changed this year when the family was awarded a LIHEAP grant, thanks to some pro-bono legal help. It made a big difference.
“I don’t think I have any words to explain it,” said Pierre.
Pierre was one of roughly 345,000 Pennsylvanians who take advantage of LIHEAP each year. Nationally, about 6 million households received help with heating costs through LIHEAP in the 2015 budget year.
All of them, however, will be out of luck next winter if President Donald Trump’s proposed budget is passed. He wants to ax the roughly $3 billion federal program.
Anti-poverty advocates are outraged.
“To completely eliminate the program would pull the rug out from under families, seniors, people with disabilities who rely on this program,” said Lydia Gottesfeld, a staff attorney with Community Legal Services who helps people enroll in LIHEAP.
Gottesfeld said cutting LIHEAP could jeopardize more low-income families who may have to rely on risky methods such as space heaters or the oven to heat their homes.
Pennsylvania’s Department of Human Services, which administers LIHEAP grants, is also upset, calling the president’s proposal “cruel.”
“The department’s hope is that the proposal is solely an ill-advised negotiating tactic from the current administration, and not a serious proposal,” said Ted Dallas, department secretary.
For the 2016-2017 LIHEAP season, Pennsylvania estimated a total budget for LIHEAP grants of roughly $164 million.
The White House has called budget cuts proposed by President Trump “compassionate” because they will not call on people to help fund domestic programs that don’t benefit them.
Trump’s proposed budget calls for increasing defense spending by $54 billion while slashing federal programs aimed at helping the country’s neediest people and neighborhoods.