State News

Home heating assistance among proposed cuts

By Elizabeth Hewitt,

In the ups and downs of the proposed 2016 budget for the Agency of Human Services, there are a few big winners, and many small losers.

Under the proposal, the agency’s overall budget would be $3.8 billion, including some $1.4 billion from federal funds. More than $651 million of the AHS budget would be paid for out of the state’s General Fund—a $24.5 million increase from last year.

AHS, which oversees six departments, including the Department of Health, the Department for Children and Families and the Department of Corrections, accounts for about half of the state’s total budget.

Across the board, the agency is asking lawmakers for a 3.9 percent increase from the General Fund. That includes about $12.7 million to replace one-time expenditures.

One of the largest cuts is the elimination of $6 million in state funding for LIHEAP (Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program). The winter fuel assistance program, which falls within the DCF, would receive about $26 million.

According to Karen Lafayette of the Vermont Low-Income Advocacy Council, the average benefit a LIHEAP recipient got this year was about $783. The proposed cut would cause that to fall to an estimated $545 for the year.

“It’s a dramatic change in policy,” Lafayette said. “The need is out there.”

Last month, a report from Vermont Law School found that low-income Vermonters spend a growing portion of their income on heating costs.

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