Legislative Update: Beware the Ides of March

— Brad Penney, General Counsel, Advocates for the Other America —

“Beware the ides of March.” — Julius Caesar, William Shakespeare

Sequestration will have major—and negative—impacts on energy and environmental management agencies. Here’s how it will affect all Americans.

  • More families exposed to the cold and heat
  • Children and seniors more vulnerable to air pollution
  • Less investment in clean drinking water and sewage treatment
  • Families and businesses receiving less assistance after extreme weather events
  • Less protection from wildfires
  • Less accurate weather forecasting
  • More dependence on foreign energy imports; more expensive clean energy
  • Less oil and gas production from federal lands and waters
  • National park closures and staff reductions
  • More dangerous seas

The Ides of March falls on the 15th of March every year, but this year that fateful date and the impending doom it foretells could arrive two weeks early—on March 1, when $85 billion in automatic federal spending cuts are set to occur. The so-called sequester will slash 5.3% in funding from every federal program except Social Security and Medicaid. For public health and clean energy programs, the sequester means less protection from air pollution and the health problems associated with it, less assistance after severe extreme weather events, more oil imports, fewer permits for oil and gas production on federal lands and waters, and reduced accessibility to our national parks. In short, it’s clear that sequestration will harm middle- and low-income Americans.

1. More families exposed to the cold and heat
The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), provided $3.4 billion in fiscal year (FY) 2012 to assist low-income seniors and other households with their heating and cooling bills. The National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association, which runs low-income energy assistance programs, reports that, “LIHEAP recipient households are likely to be vulnerable to temperature extremes” and that many of them have medical and other significant expenses.

LIHEAP provides aid to 8.9 million households, but “only 20% of the families eligible for assistance received LIHEAP aid,” according to a 2012 letter from 137 U.S. representatives to the House Appropriations Committee.

The sequester will axe an estimated $180 million in funding from LIHEAP. Since the average household received $450 from the program in 2011, this would mean preventing some 400,000 households from receiving aid from LIHEAP.

The Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) helps to weatherize the homes of low-income families, making them more energy-efficient and saving the typical household $400 in their annual heating and cooling costs. Moreover, the Department of Energy reports that:Funding reductions under sequestration will reduce by more than a thousand the number of homes that would be weatherized in FY 2013 and could result in the unemployment of 1,200 skilled weatherization professionals.

To see the impact the sequester will have on jobs and families in your State, click here.