Margaret George, a retired widower raising her three young grandchildren in a trailer in Whispering Ranch, Arizona, says her family wouldn’t survive without federal help to pay for electricity.
In March, she paid her $200 power bill thanks to a grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Those costs rise with the temperature, which can top 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the desert town 50 miles northwest of Phoenix.
“I don’t have the money to pay it,” said George, 62, whose $640 energy assistance grant won’t last through the summer. “I would have already gotten it shut off it weren’t for that program -- it was either pay the electric bill or it would be my grandchildren going without.”
Hundreds of miles away from the nation’s capital, Americans like Margaret George are experiencing the reality of automatic federal budget cuts on programs little noticed by Washington’s power brokers. At least $80 billion in reductions under a process known as sequestration are curtailing funding for AIDS drugs, help for returning military troops and projects for low- income families who don’t have clout in Congress.
Although lawmakers last month approved an emergency measure to bring an end to air-traffic controller furloughs that sparked flight delays, there is little reason to expect that other cuts will be reversed, said Bill Hoagland, senior vice president of the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington.
“The reductions are going to remain in effect through the end of 2013,” said Hoagland, a former staff director of the Senate Budget Committee. “I just don’t think there are going to be real opportunities to either drop the reductions or to modify them significantly.”
The grant George received was provided by the Wise Owl Senior Center in Wickenburg, a nonprofit contracted by Maricopa County to run the program, part of HHS’s Low Income Energy Assistance Program. An 8.2 percent mandated funding cut will remove about $285 million from the program in the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30, according to an Office of Management and Budget report.
Charlie Peterson, the program director for the center, said he expects cutbacks to result in more seniors being unable to pay for air-conditioning as summer temperatures soar.