Public Assets Institute > Policy Areas > Vermont Budget > Statement on LIHEAP funding

Statement on LIHEAP funding

Even if President Obama and some members of Congress don’t get it, Gov. Peter Shumlin understands that people can freeze to death in the winter if they don’t have heat. That’s why he announced Tuesday that the state was going to supplement the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) after Congress failed to adequately fund the program.

Congress—at the urging of the Vermont delegation—appropriated more money to the program than the president had proposed. Vermont would have received only $11 million under Obama’s budget. The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2012 that Congress passed early this month increased that to $19.5 million for Vermont for fiscal 2012. Nevertheless, the federal funding is short of the $27.5 million the state received in fiscal 2011, and Vermont is providing a smaller benefit—albeit to more people—than it did just a few years ago.

Vermont used to have a target of covering 60 percent of the cost of the average winter heating cost. Last year, it covered a third of the cost.

Governor Shumlin proposed today that the state allocate $6.1 million to LIHEAP. That, along with the $19.5 million in federal funds, is projected to cover 31 percent of the estimated average heating cost this winter.

This will be the third time since 2005 that Vermont has been forced to make up for inadequate federal funding, but this is likely to become the new normal if Congress insists on cutting federal spending instead of raising taxes, which are now at the lowest level since the early 1950s.

It was just a year ago that Congress and the Obama administration extended the Bush era tax cuts for the wealthiest taxpayers, producing a $190 million windfall this year and a like amount next year for the top 5 percent of Vermonters. Evidently afraid to ask the top 5 percent across the country to pay a little more, Congress chose instead to force poor and elderly Vermonters to shiver in the cold this winter.

The additional state funding will make a difference, and Vermont simply can’t allow people to freeze, but it’s not like the state didn’t have other budget gaps to fill.

Posted by Jack Hoffman on December 27, 2011 at 4:45 pm

3 Responses to “Statement on LIHEAP funding”

  1. Renée Carpenter says:

    Thanks for the posting, Jack,

    And thanks to Peter Shumlin for doing SOMETHING in Vermont to supplement the pitiful amount of federal funding. Something is better than nothing …. Or is it?

    Where does the “31% of estimated heating costs” come from? And how will people who have lost their jobs and run out of unemployment make up the difference? Or elders who find their retirement funds diminished, health care costs underfunded, and no where else to turn–what are they expected to do to make up the 69% (as oil industry profits soar)? Not to mention single parent households, a growing percentage of whom are now living at or below poverty? How are all these people–recently identified as 50% of the population–supposed to live?

    So, in any given winter week, the heat can be “normal” (what would this be for children or elders, 68-70? Is that warm enough on a cold winter’s day?) 2.3 days of the week, and they freeze during the rest? Or they have heat for 2.4 out of the 6+ months of the heating season? What are we thinking?!

    At least fifty of Vermont’s wealthiest Vermonters last year asked to be taxed at a higher rate so that all Vermont residents can have their basic needs met. Do some people still buy luxury items? Professional services? Financial transactions not related to household or small business banking? Even raising taxes on rooms and meals and alcohol should be fair game for taxation, if needed to provide for the basic needs of Vermonters. THAT’s what I want to hear from the Shumlin administration. NO one will go cold, hungry or homeless in Vermont. NO ONE.

    When there is such wealth, why should anyone expect any less? If that causes a few millionaires to leave the state, then they don’t belong here anyway (and of course, Shumlin’s own Tax Commission last year–among other studies–documented that that’s not the case anyway).

    So, thanks for the report, and the positive slant. I guess we all need to get to work to see that government fulfill its Constitutional obligations to “provide for the least” of Vermont residents.

  2. Bill Bevans says:

    If I were in the top 5%, I’d help my neighbors. Why don’t YOU?

  3. I’m very glad Shumlin is doing what he’s doing regarding LIHEAP, but LIHEAP really should be viewed as an interim step.

    As human beings we have a very understandable tendency to protect the existing and resist the future. Dairy farms are one example that comes to mind for me: I moved to Vermont in 1981 and there was an existing dairy farm “crisis” – 30 years later there is still a dairy farm “crisis”.

    The 30 year approach has been to keep funneling special treatment and money to the farms rather than shore them up long enough to give them an opportunity to move on to something different.

    Our approach with Vermont’s older housing (the houses – not the residents) has been the same – keep folks living homes they can’t afford to live in as opposed to helping them find circumstances they can afford and be comfortable in.

    (Yes, the same can be said of many other things in our world especially when talking about business.)

    I find it incredibly unsatisfying to as a state be dealing with the exact same problem decade after decade.