Sunday, February 05, 2012

Austerity Means Freezing

From the New York Times:

This winter has been especially austere. As part of the drive to cut spending, the Obama administration and Congress have trimmed the energy-assistance program that helps the poor — 65,000 households in Maine alone — to pay their heating bills. Eligibility is harder now, and the average amount given here is $483, down from $804 last year, all at a time when the price of oil has risen more than 40 cents in a year, to $3.71 a gallon.


As a result, Community Concepts, a community-action program serving western Maine, receives dozens of calls a day from people seeking warmth. But Dana Stevens, its director of energy and housing, says that he has distributed so much of the money reserved for emergencies that he fears running out. This means that sometimes the agency’s hot line purposely goes unanswered.

So Mainers try to make do. They warm up in idling cars, then dash inside and dive under the covers. They pour a few gallons of kerosene into their oil tank and hope it lasts.

In cold climates, people with outside oil tanks burn kerosene, because regular heating oil turns into a gel when it freezes, and clogs up the pipes. Kerosene doesn't freeze. It's also even more expensive than regular heating oil.

For older Mainers who live in drafty houses, that $483 isn't going to go very far. It's not even enough to fill up the tank once. A standard oil tank holds 275 gallons. Right now in Maine the cost of oil is approximately $4.00 a gallon.

From the Huffington Post:

How the cuts affect low income households varies by state. In Vermont, the effect will be minimal: State lawmakers are dipping into reserves to make up the shortfall from Washington's cuts.

No such luck in Maine, which saw its allotment drop from $56 million to $38.5 million. Last year 64,000 Maine households received LIHEAP assistance, with an average benefit of $804. The quasi-state agency that manages LIHEAP will make sure no fewer people receive assistance, partially by shifting funds and partially by slashing the average benefit to $483.

John and Joan McAdams, a Maine couple in their 70's, are doing this:

"At night we leave it down to 50 and during the day right now we run it at 60 degrees," he said. "This is ludicrous. The wealthy can handle it. We haven't got any money. I go to the food bank. All I get is outdated cans and a lot of spaghetti. There's a rich versus poor situation in this country. It's bad."

He's right. This is bad. This is the end result of the austerity we heard mentioned so proudly: older people freezing in their homes in what is considered the wealthiest country in the world.

Cross-posted at MainSt/

True Confession: When I read the first story, I sat at my computer and cried.

1 comment:

Stephen D. Clark said...

Did you see the slide show?

Here it is:

It's accompanied by descriptions.

"One of Hometown Energy’s customers, Robert Hartford, called pleading for heating oil for himself and his disabled wife to keep warm. Could Ike help out? Again? But the Hartfords already owed him more than $700 for two earlier deliveries and his answer was no even though he agonized over the decision. 'You get off the phone thinking, "Are these people going to be found frozen?"' Mr. Libby said."

This is an important issue to me. One of the arguments I'm developing is a counter to the Republicans' charge that Democrats and the Obama administration practice class warfare. My counter-argument is that class warfare is a fact of politics, and Democrats didn't create it. As a matter of fact, I argue, Republicans do it too.

I cite program cuts and how the unaffordability of health care makes it inaccessible, and the inaccessibility makes it deadly. I also want to argue that program cuts are deadly to financially marginal households. The quote above illustrates how.