New England Democrats and Republicans, along with some industry groups, have expressed their opposition to the Obama administration's budget proposal to slash the funding for the government program that provides home heating fuel assistance to low-income consumers.

The administration's budget for fiscal year (FY) 2012, which is to be released Monday, is expected to call for a $2.5 billion cut to the Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), Politico reported. In addition, the House Appropriations Committee has proposed LIHEAP budget cuts of $400 million for FY 2011.

LIHEAP is a block grant program under which the federal government gives states annual funds to operate home energy assistance programs for low-income households that struggle to heat their homes in the winter and cool them during the summer.

"I understand that difficult cuts have to be made...but in the middle of a brutal, even historic, New England winter, home heating assistance is more critical than ever to the health and welfare of millions of Americans, especially senior citizens," wrote Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) in a letter Wednesday to President Obama.

He called on the administration to preserve LIHEAP funding at the current level of $5.1 billion for FY 2012 when it submits its budget to Congress. Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) opposed the proposed budget request as well, saying that cutting LIHEAP funding was a "non-starter for me." It's also expected that other leading New England Republicans -- Sens. Olympia Snowe of Maine and Susan Collins of Maine -- may rally in opposition to the proposed cuts.

Asked at a news conference Thursday about cutting LIHEAP and other programs for low-income people, House Speaker John Boehner said, "Everything is on the table. We're broke. Let's be honest with ourselves," Politico reported.

Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) went on the attack against Republican plans to cut LIHEAP spending, but he was silent on Obama's proposed cut. "It takes a frigid heart for Republicans to continue to defend tax breaks for oil and gas companies while putting heating fuel assistance for America's neediest on the chopping block," he said.

According to Kerry, it's estimated that more than three million families that qualify for LIHEAP would not receive it if the current funding levels are not maintained for FY 2012. "Compounding the situation is the increased cost of home heating oil, which is roughly 12% higher than last year."

The American Gas Association (AGA) Friday announced its "grave disappointment" that the House Appropriations Committee has proposed LIHEAP budget cuts of $400 million for 2011 and that the Obama administration is proposing further cuts for LIHEAP in FY2012.

"Millions of American households depend on LIHEAP funding, which ensures that they do not have to choose between paying their energy bills and paying for food, medicine or other necessities," said AGA CEO Dave McCurdy. "The reported $2.5 billion in budget cuts to LIHEAP funding are extreme and would severely impact the lives of nearly nine million people this winter, leaving them unable to heat their homes. That is unacceptable."

AGA said current LIHEAP funding levels only assist one in five eligible Americans in paying their energy bills. "Therefore, the cuts proposed by the House Appropriations Committee and the White House would leave millions more Americans vulnerable this winter," the organization said.

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