March 18–It’s the time of year when the Warren-Hamilton Counties Community Action Agency is starting to receive requests for emergency fuel assistance from families that have used up their annual allotment of Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program funding.
“With March being the weather that it was the last couple of weeks, we are getting a lot of requests,” said Lynn Ackershock, executive director of the agency that has offices in Glens Falls and Indian Lake.
Individuals and families will find themselves in fuel crisis about five months earlier if the federal heating assistance program is eliminated, as President Donald Trump has proposed, she said.
Trump, in his budget plan, said the heating assistance program has a “lower impact” in comparison to other federal assistance programs, and “is unable to demonstrate strong performance outcomes.”
Local human service agency directors disagree.
“A lot of them (families) depend on that to help them get through the middle of the winter with the high utility bills,” said Kim Sopczyk, director of Family Services Association of Glens Falls. “A lot of them are in such a low income that it helps them stay on budget if they can get that HEAP grant one or two times through the winter.”
The increased need for assistance would come as many human services agencies would lose funding under a related Trump budget proposal to eliminate the federal Community Service Block Grant program, which provides money to states to fund services for the poor, elderly and unemployed, including Meals on Wheels and food pantries.
The federal government allocated $4.2 billion for the heating assistance and community service programs combined in the previous budget for the current federal year that began in October, according to the president’s budget proposal for the new federal fiscal year.
Many local agencies receive federal health care funding, which also is threatened, as well as human services funding, said Duane Vaughn, executive director of Tri-County United Way, which raises funding and awareness for charitable organizations in Warren, Washington and northern Saratoga counties.
“It’s hard enough on a lot of these agencies if one piece drops. But if you have two pieces, when you’re running on a shoestring as it is, it could close people’s doors,” he said.
Community Action Agency would lose about $1 million in annual funding, under President Trump’s budget proposal.
“We would go from a million-and a-quarter budget to maybe a quarter-of-a-million budget and that would mean we would not be here anymore,” Ackershock said.
The Community Services Block Grant program funds the two-county agency’s food pantry, transportation, case management and home energy efficiency programs, as covers the entire budget for the agency’s office in Indian Lake.
“That office would be eliminated immediately,” she said.
Unlike the Hamilton County office, the Glens Falls office has limited funding from other sources that could keep it open temporarily.
Family Services Association receives very little federal funding, Sopczyk said.
“We’re privately funded, but I imagine that (federal program cuts) will increase our assistance requests. So we’re definitely keeping an eye on it,” she said.
U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Willsboro, will “work hard” in the budget process to make sure that needs are met, said Tom Flanagin, the congresswoman’s spokesman.
“It’s because of proposed cuts to programs such as these that she does not support the president’s budget proposal,” Flanagin said. “The president’s budget proposal is the first step in the process, but ultimately Congress controls the power of the purse and will write the federal spending plan.”
Ackershock, of Community Action, said Congress has rejected previous presidential proposals to reduce or eliminate Community Service Block Grant funding, but the chances of elimination this time seem more realistic.
“I’ve been here for 30 years, and this has happened before,” she said. “I am the least optimistic that I have ever been. I am not in panic mode yet, but it’s waking me up in the middle of the night.”
Follow staff writer Maury Thompson at All Politics is Local blog, at PS_Politics on Twitter and at Maury Thompson Post-Star on Facebook.
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