A federal heating aid program for low-income residents has survived another attempt by President Donald Trump to kill it.
The $1.3 trillion spending bill signed by Trump on Friday includes $3.64 billion for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.
The energy assistance funding includes an extra $250 million, the first increase in five years.
“It’s amazing, isn’t it?” said Mark Wolfe, director of the National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association in Washington, D.C. “Not only did Congress reject the president’s proposal but they increased our funding. This will significantly help poor people.”
The program is especially important in the Northeast, where states are more reliant on heating oil to keep their homes warm in the winter.
It was the second time Trump tried to kill the program. He contends it’s unnecessary and rife with fraud, but program supporters say he’s wrong on both counts. They say the program known as LIHEAP is a lifeline for the elderly, disabled and others on fixed incomes.
Trump said states have programs to prevent utility shutoffs in cold weather, but there’s no such requirement for heating oil dealers, which are not regulated like electric and natural gas utilities, to deliver to customers who cannot pay.
U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat, had called Trump’s efforts to gut the program “dangerous and unacceptable.”
“The past few weeks of storms have demonstrated that heating assistance is an absolute necessity,” she said.
All told, the program has served about 6 million households in recent years, and the extra funding is enough to serve another 500,000 households, Wolfe said. In addition to helping people stay warm, the program helps people stay cool in the blazing summer heat of states like Florida and Arizona.
Dwayne Labrecque, a disabled worker in Hartford, Maine, expressed relief that the program isn’t going to be eliminated and instead will be expanded.
The program has helped him, his fiancee and their five children stay in their home. Without it, they may have had to sell their house.
“We’ve been living week to week with oil heat. If the heat hadn’t been there for us, I don’t know what we would’ve done,” said Labrecque, a diabetic who’s recovering from surgeries after losing several toes and part of his foot to infection.
Sharp reported from Portland, Maine.