COLUMBUS, Ohio - The White House again is targeting a program that helps reduce energy costs for struggling Ohioans.
President Donald Trump's recently proposed 2019 budget calls for the end to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which helped about 8 percent of Ohio households - more than 344,000 families - in Fiscal Year 2017. As chairman of the Environmental Justice and Climate Committee for the Cleveland Chapter of the NAACP, Kent Whitley said LIHEAP helps prevent utility shut-offs, a problem that disproportionately impacts low-income families of color.
"A lot of the community is on public assistance, a lot of the community is working poor," Whitley said. "And when rates go up, you have to make a decision between food and electricity and gas. It's quite simple."
Trump's calls to eliminate LIHEAP in the past were met with resistance in Congress.
Opponents claim the program is unnecessary and is subject to fraud. But supporters counter that the assistance typically is provided directly to the utility provider and not the customer.
The president's budget proposal also would slash nearly $12 million in Weatherization Assistance Program funding. That's concerning to Doug Bell, an insulation installer in Cincinnati.
He cited the numerous benefits of weatherization.
"It's good for the economy, it's good for people's health. It just makes the house a more pleasant place to live," Bell said. "In addition, of course, to the energy savings: For every dollar we invest in energy efficiency, we get $5 back into the economy."
Conservation coordinator for the Sierra Club in Ohio Chad Stephens said LIHEAP and the Weatherization Assistance Program are integral to helping the state move toward energy efficiency.
"It's not one or the other, it's really both," Stephens said. "Weatherization is the long-term solution for applying energy solutions, and it helps us face climate change. But LIHEAP is helping people with that immediate assistance. It's funding for these families that are facing shut-off notices."
Ohio lawmakers are voting this year to reduce energy-efficiency standards. Stephens said the Sierra Club and other organizations are encouraging state leaders to instead strengthen energy-efficiency requirements for electric utilities and building energy codes for new-home construction, and to improve access to weatherization for low-income residents.
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