Thousands in mid-Missouri could lose energy assistance

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COLUMBIA - President Donald Trump's proposed budget could cut billions from the federally funded Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).

The national program is targeted to low-income families that are unable to pay their energy costs.

According to the budget blueprint, the president's 2018 budget, "Eliminates the discretionary programs within the Office of Community Services, including the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program."

The cut would save the federal government $4.2 billion, according to supporters.

The document says "LIHEAP is a lower-impact program and is unable to demonstrate strong performance outcomes." 

However, Angela Hirsch, chief program officer with Central Missouri Community Action(CMCA) said otherwise. 

"Whoever wrote that phrase has never spoken to anyone who has benefited from this program," Hirsch said.     

She said the most vulnerable population relies on LIHEAP and the program works with low income families to enable them to become self sufficient. Only five percent of familes who use the service stay on it for an extented period.

"Of those 5 percent of families who have returned over the last five years, almost 74 percent of those families are the elderly, the disabled and families with children under the age of five," Hirsch said.

She said 60 percent of families utilize the LIHEAP program one time within that 5 year period.

CMCA serves 8 counties: Boone, Audrain, Callaway, Cole, Cooper, Osage, Howard, and Moniteau County.

Last year, the program gave 6,700 families a one time payment for energy assistance. The program has a crisis intervention program for those who have had their energy source disconnected or on the verge of losing their energy source. Last year, 3,355 families and 9,000 individuals were assisted through the crisis program. 

Hirsch said those people, 'don't just get their utility paid.'

"We work very closely to try to identify what the reason that this particular family is unable to meet their financial obligation to their utility company," Hirsch said. 

She said there would be a ripple effect for those living in subsidized housing if the program is cut. 

"Many families that receive subsidies for their utilities are also living in subsidized housing," Hirsch said. "As a requirement to maintain their housing, they have to keep up on their utility bill."

She said the program also maintains a safe living environment for individuals in their home. 

"There have been individuals who have been known to die in their homes because of frigid conditions or because of heat stroke in the summer time," Hirsch said.  

Hirsch does believe the program will be restored. 

"I don't believe particularly our representatives and senators in congress from Missouri are going to let the most vulnerable population fall to the side, " Hirsch said. 

The proposed federal budget would cut about $15.1 billion from the Department of Health and Human Services. 

Hirsch said cutting the program would not balance the budget, but it would put more Missourians at risk.