Heat or eat?

Commentary

MUSKEGON HEIGHTS, Mich. — Earlier this year President Bush enacted an energy bill into law that gave $85 billion dollars to big oil and gas companies. This month, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives gave billions more in tax breaks to the oil industry while doing nothing to lower gas prices.

Despite this windfall for the already rich stockholders and their friends, President Bush has proposed cutting funds to help the poor heat their homes this winter. The nation’s 37 million people who live below the poverty line will be particularly in danger.

Bills for winter heating will go up from a third to a half higher for most families across the country according to the Energy Department. Natural gas prices could jump as high as 71 percent according to the Energy Information Administration. Propane and fuel oil costs also are all expected to jump significantly higher.

The Great Lakes region and New England are expected to have the harshest winter weather and the poor in those areas will be most negatively impacted by the government’s energy policy. People “can only turn the thermostat so low before it effects their health and well being,” says Jerry McKim of Iowa’s Bureau of Energy Assistance. He goes on to say, “This is a life-or-death matter. I have serious anxiety about what folks will face this winter.”

This winter, a significantly larger number of applicants than last year are expected to request assistance in paying their energy bills, but President Bush has proposed cutting assistance programs from $2.2 billion to $2.0 billion. Programs that assist in paying energy bills are particularly critical for the elderly, disabled and children.

In contrast to Bush, Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez has weighed in on the winter heating issue on the side of the poor in the U.S. Free Market News Network Corporation (freemarketnews.com) reports that Chavez is working with Citgo Petroleum to supply poor Americans with low-cost heating oil. Venezuela is already supplying cheap oil as aid to 13 Caribbean countries. Citgo owns eight refineries and approximately 14,000 gas stations in the U.S. Chavez’s concern for America’s poor stands in sharp contrast to Bush’s callous indifference.