Budget Will Drive Up Republican Voters’ Energy Bills

by Joe Romm –

Two key programs that help the elderly and rural poor reduce their energy bills will be cut.

President Trump’s new federal budget continues a remarkable pattern of being gratuitously cruel to his own voters.

The just-released budget zeroes out the two major programs designed to help low-income and elderly Americans deal with energy costs: the Department of Energy (DOE)’s Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)’s Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).

“Families receiving weatherization services see their annual energy bills reduced by an average of about $437, depending on fuel prices,” according to DOE data. In 2010, the program saved low-income families a whopping $2.1 billion. Cutting it will save $121 million.

The program, though, is targeted toward low-income Americans, “especially low-income persons who are particularly vulnerable such as the elderly, the disabled, and children.”

There is a huge energy burden on low-income people. “Many at the bottom continue spending 25 to 30 percent of their income or more to pay utilities,” Inside Energy reported last year.

That’s why programs like WAP and LIHEAP are so important — and why they tend to spend the most money per capita in a lot of states that voted for Trump. As the L.A. Times noted in its story on the impact of the proposed House health care bill, “Americans who swept President Trump to victory — lower-income, older voters in conservative, rural parts of the country — stand to lose the most in federal health care aid under.”

Those same Americans stand to lose big-league with these cuts.

In some rural counties of Michigan and Wisconsin elderly people on fixed income pay 40 percent to 50 percent of their income towards their home energy bill. WAP funding per capita is the highest in the darker blue states below — the majority of which went for Trump, including both the Dakotas, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Indiana, and Ohio. (Maine split its electoral votes.)

Weatherization funding doesn’t just go toward reducing energy bills. It also goes towards improving “health and safety” in beneficiaries’ homes. Practically speaking, this means that when a house is being upgraded, weatherizers look for gas leaks, check the house for health and safety issues, test carbon monoxide levels, and replace fire alarms.

The budget claims this cut is “to reduce federal intervention in state-level energy policy and implementation.”

I know WAP works closely with the states. Full disclosure: As regular readers know, I worked at the DOE in the mid-1990s and helped oversee the renewable energy and energy efficiency programs, including WAP. These days it often just gives money directly to proven state-level programs, like the Indiana Housing & Community Development Authority. Needless to say, most states don’t have the resources to make up for the loss of these federal dollars.

Apparently even spending $121 million to help the poor, disabled, and elderly cut their energy costs and live in a healthier and safer home is too much for team Trump.

Even crueler, Trump’s budget zeroes out the $3.4 billion LIHEAP program, a block grant for states that, among other things, goes to help the poor and elderly with their energy bills. While LIHEAP also includes things like food stamps, up to 15 percent of the funds — or 25 percent with a federal waiver — can be spent on weatherization.

The program was already severely underfunded. On average, according to the program, “only 20 percent of the households that qualify for assistance receive benefits before the money runs out.”

Zeroing out these programs won’t just make the poor and elderly suffer more, forcing them to choose between heating their home or feeding their families. It will also kill jobs.

Weatherization is a labor-intensive activity, which is why a huge temporary boost of $5 billion was included for WAP in The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (the stimulus package).

Equally important, as of 2012, more than 89 percent of the materials used in home retrofits manufactured in the United States, meaning there is an economic upside for production, installation, and discretionary income.

Trump’s budget is subtitled, “A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again,” but these cruel cuts do no such thing.

Finally, if you’re thinking that this kind of energy-wasting budget cut is something conservatives have tried before, you’re right. George W. Bush’s administration tried this when Vice President Dick Cheney was running energy policy.

Here’s a video from February 2009 when then-Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman tried to defend defunding what his own website had called “this country’s longest running, and perhaps most successful energy efficiency program” — until they deleted those words a few days earlier.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.  (What goes around, comes around)

Reprinted with permission from Think Progress, a branch of The Center for American Progress