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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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