By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter stopped in the city last week in the course of touring the 1st Congressional District to gauge the reaction of social service agencies to the prospect of further reductions in public assistance programs, particularly the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program known as LIHEAP.
Meeting with a small group at the offices of the Community Action Program Belknap-Merrimack Counities, Shea-Porter said that the Trump Administration, together with the Republican Congress, has "targeted programs for the poorest and most vulnerable." However, she was quick to stress that shrinking assistance for the poor would have "a widespread impact on local businesses and landlords."
Judy Scothorne, community services director at the Community Action Program, said that during the past winter the agency received 1,729 applications for the energy assistance program and disbursed $1,252,185, noting that approximately a third of all recipients. She said that since the recession federal funding for the program has been halved, from $50 million to $25 million while eligibility standard have been tightened, leaving many needy individuals, couples and families without the means to power and heat their homes.
"We try everything to make people eligible" she said, "and donations have helped us serve those who don't qualify. Basically I have to tell some to go begging."
One working woman, who lives alone, said she had to borrow at an interest rate of 10.5 percent to pay her electric bills and purchase fuel oil.
"You're not as good as you need to be as a working person," she said. "It's very frustrating. It's a hard, hard life to live."
Donna Cilley, director of general assistance in Belmont for the past 22 years, called the prospect of reduced federal funding for energy assistance, food stamps and the Temporary Cash Assistance for Needy Families program "catastrophic." She explained that "we're going to absorb what they cut on the local level. They may be cutting, but we're going to spend in higher property taxes." She said that the proliferation of low-wage jobs leave many with little incentive to work. A single mother with two children and without child support may earn $10 an hour, which she noted "is not enough to live, but enough to be ineligible for assistance. Cilley said that she is especially troubled by the widespread assumption that those who seek public assistance suffer from a "character flaw."
Shea-Porter told the group that she is "optimistic," not least because the threat to public assistance programs, together with talk of reducing or even eliminating Medicaid and Medicare, has prompted conversations among both Republicans and Democrats in Congress. "I'm optimistic," she said, "but these are tough times. We're encouraged some days more than others, but expect more battles than ever before. Keep up the resistance," she remarked in closing. "That's the word — resist."
Carol Shea-Porter visited Laconia April 20 to meet with social services agencies over the prospect of reductions to public assistance programs like the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. (Michael Kitch/Laconia Daily Sun)
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