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Cuts target LIHEAP and WIC

If some members of Congress have their way, federal funding will be cut for at least two programs that benefit the poor in Letcher County.

Funding cuts of at least $61 billion being pushed by the Republicancontrolled U.S. House of Representatives would include cuts locally to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). A third program which provides cheap family planning to Letcher County residents of all income levels would be eliminated under the budget being touted by Republican leaders, including U.S. Rep. Harold “Hal” Rogers.

The WIC program, which is operated locally by the Letcher County Health Department, is facing a 10 percent cut nationwide, or $747 million. Lana Polly-Mullins, director of the county health department, said the WIC program now serves 756 families in Letcher County.

LIHEAP serves poor families and senior citizens who cannot afford to pay their high heating bills. Under a compromise between the Republican members of Congress and President Obama, funding for LIHEAP would be reduced from its present level of $5.1 billion to its 2008 level of $2.5 billion. Obama’s involvement in the plan is drawing loud protests from many of his fellow Democratic lawmakers.

Locally, the heating assistance program administered through the Leslie-Knott-Letcher-Perry Community Action Council (LKLP) is facing a cut of $3 million, or about 40 percent of its funding.

LKLP says LIHEAP will have assisted 1,500 households in Lecher County through its “crisis component” from July 1, 2010 through June 30, 2011. Donna Hayes, LIHEAP program coordinator for LKLP, said 1,145 people have been assisted in Knott County, 1,677 in Leslie County, and 2,152 in Perry County.

To qualify for the crisis component of LIHEAP, a person must meet income eligibility requirements as well as have a utility disconnect notice or be within four days of running out of propane, kerosene, coal, wood or fuel oil. LIHEAP provides the minimum amount of fuel required to relieve the resident’s crisis.

For a household of two, the gross monthly income must be at or below $1,579 and $2,389 for a family of four. The person must be responsible for home heating costs or pay heating costs as an undesignated portion of their rent. The person must provide a metered utility bill as proof of residency.

WIC supplements diets of low-income women, infants, and children up to age 5 who are at nutritional risk by providing nutritious foods at no cost. Participants of this program also receive nutritional counseling, information on healthy eating and referrals for health care, welfare and social services.

The health department provides participants with vouchers for a wide range of food including milk, peanut butter, milk, soup beans, eggs, cheese, juices and cereals. To qualify for WIC, women and children must meet income guidelines and be at nutritional risk. For a family of two, the annual income must be below $20,036 and for a family of four the annual income must be at or below $40, 793.

Rep. Rogers and other Republican House members are also seeking cuts nationally of $50 million to the Maternal and Child Health Block Grant, a program which makes sure that children from low-income families receive their required immunizations. Polly-Mullins said money from that grant enable the health department to see 2,500 children each year for preventative medicine, including checkups, immunizations and dental fluoride varnishings.

A 40- year- old family planning program may be eliminated altogether if the Republican House has its way. In this program, which is also administered locally by the health department, women see a nurse practitioner, get a Pap smear and may be given a year’s supply of a birth control method. New patients are required to return to the health department for a follow up appointment three months after the first visit. Polly-Mullins said 300 to 350 women are seen a year in Letcher County.

She said the cost for patients is drastically lower for the family planning services at the health department. The office visit, lab work, Pap smear and birth control costs about $120.

“You can come for family planning regardless of income,” said Polly-Mullins.

On Tuesday, three present and former Democratic members of Congress spoke out against the Obama administration’s proposal to cut LIHEP.

Democratic U.S. Reps. Michael Capuano and Jim McGovern, along with former Boston-area Rep. Joseph Kennedy II, held a news conference during Obama’s visit to Boston to criticize the president’s proposed cuts.

Kennedy, chairman of the nonprofit Citizens Energy, said the compromise between Obama and House Republicans protected tax cuts for the wealthy at the expense of seniors and lowincome families needing fuel assistance.

“The first thing they put on the chopping block was fuel assistance,” said Kennedy, whose company provides free heating oil to families that have exhausted their federal benefits.

“At the same time, they protected the richest people in this country from any kind of tax give-back a trillion dollar deal to preserve tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans,” he said. “This is just wrong.”

Capuano said he was “extremely disappointed” about the proposed cuts and held up an home heating oil bill from a constituent who paid $540 for 139 gallons.

“Here is a statement from the Social Security Administration showing that the average Social Security payment is $ 1,075,” Capuano said. “How can a family struggling to get by on Social Security afford to stay warm?”

Some of the information used in this report was gathered by The Associated Press.

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