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President's Budget: Big Cuts for CO Heat Help

February 17, 2011

DENVER - President Obama has proposed a federal budget for next year which cuts what the administration calls "wasteful spending." One targeted program helps low-income Coloradans pay their heating and cooling bills through LEAP - the Low-income Energy Assistance Program.

Jeffco Action Center is one of the local organizations which help distribute LEAP funds in Jefferson County. Executive Director Mag Strittmatter says the cuts would be devastating to a diverse group of Coloradans, all still feeling lingering effects of the recession.

"When people talk about these disenfranchised populations, or who these people are, more and more these people are any of us. These actions really have to be taken very, very cautiously."

The administration proposes cutting funds for the program in half nationwide, to just over $2.5 billion. The rationale for the slash is lower energy prices than in previous years, which supposedly make heating and cooling less expensive to consumers.

Skip Arnold, executive director of Energy Outreach Colorado, says funding would be cut by more than $25 million in Colorado alone, would mean the average LEAP family would see their winter heating bill burden rise by about $150.

"The impact that this is going to have on vulnerable households is significant. Things like medical care, medicine, meals, while they don't seem optional to most people, become optional to these households."

The President acknowledges that his office is making "tough choices" to deal with the spiraling federal deficit. However, Mag Strittmatter questions the wisdom of making cuts to LEAP.

"These are uncharted waters for us, but to exact that type of action on the shoulders of people who have the least, and could possibly result in a higher rate of poverty, is not necessarily the best course of action."

Energy Outreach Colorado reports that more than a quarter of LEAP households had children under age five, and the second leading cause of homelessness for families with children is the inability to pay for energy.

The LEAP program is known as LI-HEAP outside of Colorado.

Kathleen Ryan, Public News Service - CO