Budget cuts have forced thousands of poor families to go without air conditioning as a record heat wave sweeps across the country. Many states have been facing budget crises and programs that help needy families pay their electric bills are often the first thing to go:
Many states hit hardest by this week’s searing heat wave have drastically cut or entirely eliminated programs that help poor people pay their electric bills, forcing thousands to go without air conditioning when they need it most.
Oklahoma ran out of money in just three days. Illinois cut its program to focus on offering heating money for the winter ahead. And Indiana isn’t taking any new applicants.
When weighed against education and other budget needs, cooling assistance has been among the first items cut, and advocates for the poor say that could make this heat wave even more dangerous. [...]
The cuts began after Congress eliminated millions of dollars in potential aid, forcing state lawmakers to scale back energy assistance programs. The agencies that distribute the money are worried that the situation could get even worse next year because the White House is considering cutting the program in half.
The government cut $400 million for low-income energy assistance this year, and the cuts will be equally problematic when winter comes. Most the assistance actually goes to helping families pay heating bills in winter.
For now, officials are worried about an escalated number of preventable deaths due to the cutbacks. States in the South and Midwest use a portion of the federal assistance to provide AC during the summer “especially for elderly people and those with medical conditions that could be fatal in high heat.”
Requests for heating and cooling assistance have skyrocketed since the recession began, with 8.9 million households receiving federal help this year compared to 5.8 million in 2008-09. Yet Michigan saw its federal funding plummet from $238 million to $38 million, and Texas’ funding fell by $28.6 million. President Obama wants to cut the program back to $2.5 billion for the entire country, which many experts families say will have a devastating effect.