DENVER -- Proposed federal cutbacks to "safety net" programs are raising concerns in Colorado and across the country.
The Trump Administration’s 2019 budget proposes the elimination of the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program and the Community Services Block Grant.
It calls LIHEAP “low-performing and ineffective.”
Program recipient: It means a lot to me
Aurora resident Douglas Zurfluh said the program was very effective for him. The 63-year-old, who has a disability, said his furnace conked out last winter.
“The heat exchanger cracked,” he said. “It couldn’t be fixed.”
He told Denver7 that his credit cards were “maxed out,” and that he didn’t have much in savings, so he couldn’t afford to get the furnace replaced.
He said he had to decide whether to spend what little money he had on an electric heater, or to buy groceries.
“I knew an electric heater would cost a lot,” he said.
Zurfluh then learned that he qualified for low-income energy assistance.
He said LIHEAP, known as LEAP in Colorado, paid for a new furnace.
Energy Outreach Colorado
“These are your grandparents,” said Jennifer Gremmert, executive director of Energy Outreach Colorado. “These are seniors struggling on a fixed income, or disabled individuals whose income isn’t enough to maintain paying all their bills.”
Gremmert told Denver7 that the state of Colorado serves about 76,000 households through the LEAP program and that Energy Outreach serves another 20,000 households.
“There’s a lot of need,” she said. “It’s the foundation of all of our energy assistance programs in Colorado."
Gremmert said EOC was created to leverage federal funds to generate private funding.
She said EOC receives ten percent of its funding from the federal government, and that the rest comes from utility companies, oil & gas producers and thousands of individuals across the state.
"We’re a generous state, so we’re able to continue those programs,” she said, “but what the cuts would mean is that fewer families would get assistance.”
Gremmert said the nonprofit uses money from the various sources to help families pay part of their energy bill, weatherize their homes, or to fix or replace furnaces.
Energy Outreach Colorado has invested $273 million since 1989, for affordable energy programs.
Last year, the nonprofit helped pay 16,038 home energy bills and repaired or replaced 1,579 furnaces.
EOC also spent $3 million to weatherize 305 limited-income single family homes and 2,565 affordable housing apartments.
“Every dollar we have, we could distribute,” Gremmert said. “It really just depends on our funding and availability of funding.”
Plans trip to Washington
Gremmert told Denver7 that she plans to go to Washington, D.C., next month to talk to U.S. Senators and Representatives about the importance of the energy assistance program and what it means to their constituents.
She said other members of the National Energy and Affordability Coalition will be there too.
“Unfortunately, this becomes a partisan issue,” she said, “and I don’t think it is a partisan issue. It’s something that Coloradans value – protecting our families. It’s an important part of our life, more than a lot of other states," she said.