Our Opinion: Governor must pony up state funds to cover LIHEAP shortfall
The trough of brutally cold air that settled over the Berkshires and the rest of the commonwealth beginning Sunday night should help focus Gov. Charlie Baker's attention on an issue of paramount importance: ensuring the disadvantaged residents of his state don't freeze to death.
President Donald Trump, who is not exactly known for empathizing with those in need, determined last year that LIHEAP, the federal Low Income Heating Assistance Program, was rife with fraud — an assertion that was made absent any supporting evidence for his claim. Twice, he tried to have this life-saving program eliminated, but had to settle for a reduction in funds to certain states, among them Massachusetts. While LIHEAP funding nationally was increased by $50 million to a total of $3.65 billion, the Bay State's share dropped by $11.2 million to $136.5 million. Since Congress at the time of LIHEAP's appropriation for this year was fully in Republican control, it begs the question as to whether Massachusetts' political leanings had a role in the decision to trim its funds.
LIHEAP is awarded to states as block grants, and states have the prerogative of dispensing them as they see fit. Despite the fact that this winter's temperatures have been slightly above average as a whole, for a significant number of low-income recipients the federal LIHEAP funding has already dried up. Accordingly, some 70 Massachusetts lawmakers from both houses of the Legislature have banded together to request that Gov. Baker take another $30 million from state coffers to cover the federal shortfall as well as provide extra funds for the remainder of the season. Among the signers are members of the Berkshire delegation, including Rep. John Barrett III, Rep. Paul Mark and state Sen. Adam Hinds. They represent the 8,000 Berkshire households that rely on LIHEAP funding to stretch out their heating bills through winter.
The state budget, as always, is tight. Nevertheless, it is difficult to imagine a more pressing need for any state expenditure than the survival of its residents. While the president and his party may have difficulty conceiving of the stark choices low income Americans face every winter when it comes to paying for housing, food and heat, this country and this state have a moral imperative to provide heating assistance to those who desperately need it. We urge the governor to heed the letter from legislators and provide the funding necessary to stave off potential tragedy. Anything less would be an abrogation of his duty.
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