February 18, 2018 06:02 PM
In an effort to defend a federal program, Democratic U.S. Sen. Tina Smith paid a visit to a St. Paul man who relies on assistance to heat his home.
In his proposed budget released last week, President Donald Trump put the Low Income Energy Assistance Program on the chopping block. The Minnesota Department of Commerce said 126,000 households statewide relied on the program last winter.
The Trump Administration said cutting the program nationwide would save the federal government nearly $3.4 billon in 2019. The proposal states the program has integrity concerns, as it "has been known to have sizeable fraud and abuse." The administration points to alleged incidents where funds were given to dead or imprisoned people.
Smith said the federal savings would come at the expense of the health and safety of Minnesota's most vulnerable.
"They are the families we all live next to," Smith said Sunday from the home of Steve Truen. "Also, two-thirds of them are in greater Minnesota, so it's something that's of incredible help to the whole state."
Struggling with employment, Truen said the assistance program allowed him to afford a furnace for his house. Without the assistance, Truen said, he would've had to sell the St. Paul house he's called home for 30 years.
"This program renewed my energy, renewed my self esteem and allowed me to stay here in this house I've worked so hard on," Truen said. "I just can't tell you how much of a lifesaver it was."
In the president's proposed budget, the administration argued state policies render the program "no longer a necesseity." Minnesota's so-called "Cold Weather Rule" is specifically mentioned in the budget cut. The law prevents companies from cutting off electricity and gas to non-paying customers during cold months. Smith argued that law only delays payments.
According to the state commerce department, the average household receiving energy assistance had 2.5 members earning an annual income of $17,900. The agency added that 75 percent of the households served include a senior, young child or someone with a disability.
Updated: February 18, 2018 06:02 PM
Created: February 18, 2018 12:40 PM
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