Cuts To Home Heating Aid Affect The Most Vulnerable

BOSTON — Legislators from cold-weather states, including Massachusetts, are proposing a new bill that would significantly increase federal heating assistance. That’s in response to President Obama’s proposed budget, released this week, that includes a $470 million cut to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP.

WWII Vet Struggles To Heat His Home

There’s a breeze seeping through the closed windows of John MacPherson’s house in Dorchester. And he says it feels like money blowing away.

John MacPherson, a WWII veteran, struggles to pay his home heating bills. (Monica Brady-Myerov/WBUR)

“You put your hand here. Right here, I feel it,” says MacPherson, standing by a front window.

MacPherson fills up his oil tank about four times a year, which costs around $4,000 — hard to handle on his Social Security and veterans benefits. He fought in World War II. He stormed the beaches of Normandy in France and later helped occupy Japanese islands. Now he’s 85, a father of eight children and grandfather to 13 grandchildren. He lives alone this 10-room house, which he owns. But he has trouble paying for heat.

“I ran out of money,” MacPherson says, “[so I] use my Social Security check if I need more oil if I don’t get any assistance.”

And he probably won’t get any more assistance. MacPherson has already received $955 — the maximum annual benefit from ABCD, a nonprofit group that distributes state and federal heating aid. And next year, Obama’s new budget could further cut the program.

A group of lawmakers from northern states is proposing a bill to increase LIHEAP funding significantly, to $7.6 billion a year for the next four years.

ABCD President John Drew says he’s dismayed.

“Right now in Boston we have 22,000 households who receive assistance,” Drew said. “Higher prices of energy, what little money people have doesn’t go as far because other prices are going up. We see thousands of people calling us now already out of assistance.”

Drew says even though it’s a mild winter, the applications for help are up from last year. He says the president’s proposed cut would mean a 40 percent reduction in federal funding for Massachusetts, compared with two years ago.

Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) is trying to do something about it. He’s part of a coalition of lawmakers from northern states proposing a bill to increase LIHEAP funding significantly, to $7.6 billion a year for the next four years. At a press conference outside the Capitol this week, Markey called LIHEAP a lifeline and hopes Republicans will vote to increase funding.

“It takes a frigid heart to defend tax breaks for the most profitable oil companies in the world while millions of American families worry about putting food on the table and having to choose between heating and eating,” Markey said.

Markey points out those who get heating assistance are the most vulnerable — struggling families, elderly people and military veterans.

That’s why MacPherson says the president’s proposal just doesn’t make sense to him.

“I think it’s rotten,” MacPherson says.

“I don’t know what’s going on with him (President Obama), this whole world has gone crazy, I’m telling you, I don’t know how people survive, you know,” MacPherson continues.

MacPherson says he will survive because he’ll use more of his Social Security on heat. He’s saved up some money, but he says that is for his burial.

“I got money saved up for that, I will not touch it. I’ve had that now for umpteen years put away and I will not touch it,” MacPherson says.

MacPherson has it all planned out. He takes down two wooden boxes with his Shelties’ ashes. He’s says they’ll share the cemetery plot he bought in Bourne. Their names are Molly and Teddy and they are wrapped and ready to go to the cemetery. MacPherson still has a cat, who he calls “kitty cat,” who keeps his lap warm on cold days.

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  • Grifdog08

    “He lives alone this 10-room house, which he owns. But he has trouble paying for heat.”

    As a veteran and I;’m sure a good citizen MacPherson has earned the right to live his retirement years as he chooses …but in these times tight budgets and sky high oil prices ….some thought should be given to wether living alone in an energy ineficient 10 room  house should be recoonsidered for this and a whole host of items our elderly people are challenged with.

  • Bob

    I salute Mr. MacPherson’s miliatry service but find it absurd that he expects the government (taxpayers) to dole out money to subsidize his heating bill so he can afford to continue living alone in a 10-room house! It’s great that he owns it, and no doubt it’s full of memories, but it’s tiime for the kids and grandkids help him pack up the memories and move to a sensibly sized home he can afford to heat. Save the subsidies for people who really need them. 

  • Profgeb

    I am glad he has something to fall back on… I am an asst. professor at a major university here in Boston and I am living month to month. There is no way that I can afford to heat the house I RENT. We froze in the month of January.  I work my ass off, but when I applied to ABCD for heat assistance I was denied. There is no consideration of anything except what your income looks like on paper… despite my husband’s major illness and mega financial aid repayments that are not only precluding me from surviving but are also affecting my own health. Nobody cares about anyone except the very poor (arguably) or the very rich (definitely)/..

  • Sally

    Subtitles: “I can’t be bothered to change my lifestyle because I’m entitled to take advantage of situations like this”

    Every single year, there’s the same story in the news that highlights
    the MacPhersons. And every year, ABCD is there to bail him and his
    family out of this same situation. I’m sympathetic towards his
    situation, and I believe in helping people. But when I see the same
    story every year and how he’s not doing anything but living in a 10-room
    house, it angers me. Middle-class families are making barely enough to
    get by, living paycheck-to-paycheck, while Mr. MacPherson lives in a
    gigantic, empty house burning away energy resources. What good is it
    when economic assistance for the poor does nothing but perpetuate an
    endless cycle of complacency?

  • Aew

    No vet of any war should ever struggle to pay their heating bill !  Shame on us for not taking better care of the people who have taken care of us. 

    • Sally

       Can we take care of them without them living in an empty 10-room house?

  • AaronB

    I wish they would redirect some of the heating assistance toward replacing drafty windows and improving insulation–expenditures that will pay off year after year. 

    • Sally

      Weatherization programs are offered as well, but some people choose to just take money instead… quick fix…

  • Mickey

    Yes, I do know someone who has difficulty stretching her SSI check to make her bills.  The weatherization program is limited — a diagnosis and then it’s up to the landlord.  Or not.  Surprised the President would do this.  Not his usual M.O.

  • Maria

    We need to fight for more money and a president that is able to support the poor.

  • Hank

    What about moving to a smaller house? or a more energy efficient house? Switch to gaz? Replace the windows? Just because he is a veteran does not mean that he has no responsabilities and that society needs to pay everything for him.

  • Anonymous

    I believe in the idea of our government using tax payer money to help people who need help.  But this is exactly the kind of story that gives these beliefs a bad name!!  First of all, why aren’t any of his 8 children helping him?  Could it be that they are all destitute?  Second of all, why is the “breeze seeping through the closed window?” Yes, Mr. Mac Pherson, money IS blowing away!  This story is ludicrous, and I’d laugh except that this is the kind of thing that gives fuel to the folks that just want to shut down programs that actually do help…Please, WBUR, give us something better!

  • Abby Swaine

    I completely agree with aurora1956.  In addition, I think a diligent reporter should have asked, and answered, whether Mr. MacPherson (or LIHEAP on his behalf) had looked into free and low-cost weatherization options such as http://www.massresources.org/weatherization.html and http://www.massresources.org/masssave.html

  • Womacksha

    cruel evil people with your comments, ideas and thoughts.
    I hate you for that. I am cold, and make $1200 while laid off this winter. My bills total $1200 so we are cold a blizzard arriving and you make comments. Hank you suck, I hope when you are old, we do the same to you.

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