AUSTERITY

Posted in Quick Hits on December 12th, 2011 by Ed

From the Associated Press:

Mary Power is 92 and worried about surviving another frigid New England winter. Deep cuts in federal home heating assistance benefits mean she probably can't afford enough heating oil to stay warm.

She lives in a drafty trailer in Boston's West Roxbury neighborhood and gets by on $11,148 a year in pension and Social Security benefits. Her heating aid help this year will drop from $1,035 to $685. With rising heating oil prices, it probably will cost her more than $3,000 for enough oil to keep warm unless she turns her thermostat down to 60 degrees, as she plans.

"I will just have to crawl into bed with the covers over me and stay there," said Power, a widow who worked as a cashier and waitress until she was 80. "I will do what I have to do."

Thousands of poor people across the Northeast are bracing for a difficult winter with substantially less home heating aid coming from the federal government.

"They're playing Russian roulette with people's lives," said John Drew, who heads Action for Boston Community Development, Inc., which provides aid to low-income residents in Massachusetts.

The issue could flare just as New Hampshire votes in the Republican presidential primary.

Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, said she hopes the candidates will take up the region's heating aid crunch because it underscores how badly the country needs a comprehensive energy policy.

Several Northeast states already have reduced heating aid benefits to families as Congress considers cutting more than $1 billion from last year's $4.7 billion Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program that served nearly 9 million households.

The first thing that comes to mind: thank god the Pentagon's trillion dollars weren't affected.

The second thing: I thought turning the thermostat down to 60 was just something one does when winter arrives. Are there people in this country who can actually afford the luxury of not being balls cold in their own home for the entirety of winter? If I had my thermostat set to a reasonably warm temperature my electric bill would be about $600/month.

And that brings me to the third thing: I have electric heat and the subject of this news item lives in one of the many older homes in the northeast with oil heat. These are two of the least efficient, most expensive ways to heat a home. The percentage of homes in this country with badly antiquated heating/cooling systems must contribute mightily to the vast amount of energy resources we consume in this country. We tend to focus inordinately on cars and our consumption of gasoline, but something tells me that making sure homes and shared buildings have heating systems that post-date the Industrial Revolution would accomplish nearly as much to "reduce our dependence on foreign oil" and other energy-related buzzwords.

But I'm overlooking the most obvious aspect of this story. Namely, the ongoing quest to figure out what in the holy hell is wrong with us as a country.