We’re fighting to keep seniors warm this winter

Sherrod Brown
For more than 30 years, the bipartisan Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) has helped many Ohio seniors and families – especially those with the lowest incomes who pay a high proportion of their income on home energy – keep warm in the winter.

Yet, under a new proposal in the House of Representatives, warm-weather states may receive additional funds at the expense of cold weather states like Ohio. Seniors facing rising home energy costs during Ohio’s cold winters shouldn’t be forced to choose between heating their homes and buying groceries.

A bill in the House would slash vital energy resources for low-income and elderly Ohioans to send a large share of energy assistance resources to warm-weather states like Florida and Arizona. By setting aside a bipartisan formula for disbursing assistance that’s been used for 30 years, the House proposal would result in colder-weather states receiving less help – to the tune of $15 million in Ohio alone.

It’s time to listen to and speak out for the 426,410 Ohioans who don’t know how they’re going to keep the heat on this winter. When elderly and low-income Ohioans pay high heating costs to keep their homes warm, they often cut back on other bills – like buying groceries or paying for medicine.

Recently, I visited with a constituent who lives in Cuyahoga County. The woman I met with – at her home – is in her nineties and relies on LIHEAP funds to help keep warm as the temperature falls. I also spoke with a senior citizen from Waterford who has a monthly income of about $694 and in the winter spends a large portion of her income on heating. While the debate in Washington has been focused on the budget deficit, what programs we choose to cut have real-world consequences. We cannot forget the challenges faced by America’s seniors and low-income, working families.

The senior from Washington County said she doesn’t know what elderly Ohioans are going to do if this is cut.

Further cuts to LIHEAP could result in Ohio seniors receiving smaller award amounts to help heat their homes this winter or denied assistance altogether.

Hypothermia claimed the lives of hundreds of Ohioans over the past five years – and this was at a time when LIHEAP resources were more abundant. With heating oil prices expected to rise by 10 percent this winter, we have a responsibility to help keep Ohio families safe.

Let’s make sure we don’t have to get to that point. That is why I led 33 of my Senate colleagues – both Republicans and Democrats – in writing to the Obama Administration in support of the rapid deployment of LIHEAP resources to the communities in cold, Midwestern and Northeastern states that need it most.

As poverty rates increase, it becomes even more imperative that America acts to protect our values. In America, no senior should have to worry about freezing in their own home. A single, working parent shouldn’t have to choose between keeping the heat on and paying for food for her children.

Like most Americans, I care about the budget and the deficit. But we need to cut wasteful subsidies for Big Oil companies or extra tax breaks for giant corporations before cutting lifelines for Ohio seniors.

Sherrod Brown is a United States Senator from Ohio.