Cutting federal energy assistance programs will hurt Marylanders

March 12, 2011

In addition to the reductions cited in The Sun's article on the effects of federal budget cuts to Maryland families ("Federal cuts loom in Md." March 6), the $2.5 Billion in proposed cuts to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) means a threat to the well-being of hundreds of thousands of Marylanders.

The Fuel Fund of Maryland is supported by individual donations, corporate and foundation grants and local businesses. We work through a network of agencies state-wide to assist Maryland's most vulnerable people. Together, we helped more than 7,500 families keep their lights and heat on last year.

Maintaining essential utility services like home heating is the foundation for assuring that there is food on the table, warm water for bathing and lights to use while doing homework. Without heat and lights, family life is disrupted, and children's education will suffer.

Most fundamental, though, is that home energy is necessary for stable housing and to avert homelessness. Often, families who can't afford home energy are evicted or need to abandon their homes. Sometimes, they stay with friends or relatives. Sometimes, they stay in shelters. Too many times, families end up out on the streets.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, this year is worse than last year for average household energy expense and will probably turn out to be the most expensive heating season on record for oil-heated homes. Over 100,000 families in Maryland received LIHEAP help last year and this year we are exceeding that record. Proposed cuts in next year's budget to this vital federal program will mean that half of those families could literally be left out in the cold. Some 50,000 additional Maryland families may seek assistance from the Fuel Fund next year. We are not prepared to help at this level.

The Fuel Fund of Maryland doesn't receive or distribute LIHEAP funding, but we know how vital it is to keeping families healthy and safe in their own homes. The Fuel Fund helps the families who do not qualify or who still need help in addition to LIHEAP. The Fuel Fund, as a charity, cannot fill the energy assistance gap by itself. We will need much more support to make even a small dent in filling the need that the cuts will cause.

Maintaining LIHEAP is an investment in Maryland's families. The program supports neighborhood stability, children's education and health and wellness. Maintaining full funding is the right thing to do.

Mary Ellen Vanni, Baltimore

The writer is executive director of the Fuel Fund of Maryland.

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