Monday, December 10, 2007

MA, other states struggle to keep warm

WASHINGTON --Matilda Winslow counts on home heating assistance to survive New England's harsh winters. The 75-year-old widow gets by on a monthly $860 Social Security check, but she can't keep up with heating oil costs that top $3 per gallon.

So she turns down the heat, pulls on sweaters, piles on blankets and wears warm socks to bed. When temperatures really plummet, she leaves her home in Boston's Dorchester neighborhood and stays at her daughter's house.

"It's miserable," Winslow says. "How do they expect me to live and heat my home?"

Like Winslow, millions of poor and elderly people on fixed incomes rely on heating assistance to help pay their heating bills. But with home heating oil prices surging to record levels and wintry storms already hitting many states, Congress and President Bush can't agree on how much money to give the government's Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which provides heating and cooling subsidies for the poor.

Bush recently vetoed a sweeping Democratic health and education spending bill that included roughly $2.4 billion heating aid for the poor this winter. The amount was $480 million more than he requested -- and would have boosted the energy assistance program by about $250 million from last year.

Lawmakers from cold-weather states are still pressing for the extra money before Congress adjourns this year.

It's a shame, this nation's financial situation, and it will take more than Yankee Candles and coffee cakes to fix it. If we weren't $9.1 trillion in debt, maybe Matilda's home would be nice and warm. Sigh.

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