The Trump budget: A triple threat to household energy security and health

In March, President Donald Trump released his first “skinny budget”—a preview of his priorities and desires for federal spending in the upcoming fiscal year. He recently released a more detailed budget proposal that reaffirms his intention to fulfill his sweeping promises of national prosperity at the expense of millions of Americans who already are just getting by on the skinniest of budgets.

Although Trump proposes alarming cuts to many services that provide a basic living standard for people with the fewest financial resources, for now I’d like to focus on just one aspect: home energy needs. The president has targeted for elimination the HOME Investment Partnerships Program, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP), which struggling families rely on for survival in the short term and to transition to economic self-sufficiency in the long term.

LIHEAP graphicPeople who can’t afford to spend much on housing often end up in old, poorly insulated homes where the rent or mortgage is low but the energy costs are exorbitant; thus, despite their efforts to budget responsibly, the poor condition of their living space limits their ability to get ahead. Federal funds make quality housing more affordable through help with utility bill payment, energy-related crisis assistance, permanent reduction in energy use through weatherization, and repairs necessary to make homes safe and energy efficient. As a result, there’s more money in household budgets for other basics such as food, transportation and healthcare. Furthermore, we all benefit from weatherization and energy efficiency measures through increased electric grid reliability and reduced pollution.

The elimination of these services would certainly have an impact in Michigan, where LIHEAP served nearly 455,000 households in budget year 2016. Approximately half of these households were below 75 percent of the federal poverty line and about 40 percent included an elderly person, a child age 5 or younger, or a person with a disability. Even with these resources, applicant households generally outnumber those actually funded by tens of thousands in a given year. Moreover, Michigan is a “heat and eat” state, meaning that households receiving at least $20 in heating assistance qualify for an increase in their monthly food assistance benefits. Thus, axing LIHEAP would directly increase hunger among some of the state’s most vulnerable people and further jeopardize their health.

The loss of all of these services would hinder working recipients’ ability to achieve economic security and punish those who can’t work—mainly children, seniors and people with disabilities—with potentially life-threatening consequences. Even more people would have to choose between freezing to death in the winter and resorting to unsafe measures in an attempt to keep warm. More people would have to try to survive on an unhealthy diet because they can’t afford the energy to power a refrigerator or stove. More people who rely on home medical equipment would have to forego treatment or get it in a healthcare facility, which may be associated with higher system-wide costs, worse health outcomes and a lower quality of life.

This is hardly a successful blueprint for American greatness. It’s penny-wise and pound-foolish to cut people off from utility bill assistance while eliminating funding for home improvements and weatherization measures that can reduce their need for such assistance in the first place. It’s downright cruel to do so while pushing legislation that will raise out-of-pocket insurance costs and rescind coverage that millions of people need in order to combat the negative health effects of household energy insecurity.

It’s often said that the cheapest energy is the energy we don’t use. The same can be said for healthcare. If we want Americans to enjoy better health at a lower cost, investing in quality housing and home energy security is common sense. Tell your congressional representatives to protect these vital services that reduce pollution, lower healthcare costs and empower people with low incomes to achieve economic independence.

— Julie Cassidy