CAA could lose $2M in federal assistance

LISBON — For the second consecutive year, the head of the Community Action Agency of Columbiana County is sounding the alarm over federal budget cuts contained in President Donald Trump’s latest proposed federal budget.

CAA CEO Thomas E. Andrews said they are poised to lose nearly $2 million in federal public assistance, including elimination of programs that help poorer residents pay their utility bills and insulate their homes.

“The programs at risk help those in our community who are the most vulnerable,” Andrews said, in a news release. “Our low income neighbors work hard to overcome their unique obstacles to break free from poverty. Taking away the programs that help them take those important steps towards success will only cause them to fall further away from their goals.”

Andrews raised the same concerns last year after President Trump’s 2018 budget proposal called for similar cuts and program eliminations. None of those cuts occurred, and he conceded its likely the threatened programs will again emerge unscathed when Congress gets around to approving the 2019 federal budget. But, he said, they still need to educate the public and legislators about what those cuts mean to local residents should they be implemented.

According to Andrews, Trump’s proposed cuts and program eliminations would result in the loss of $1.73 million in federal funding for the CAA, which has an annual budget of about $20 million. One proposed cut garnering much media attention is elimination of the Low-Income Heating Assistance Program. CAA received about $1.1 million in LIHEAP funding, $900,000 of which was used to help income eligible residents pay their utility bills. About 4,000 households threatened with having their heat turned off received one-time LIHEAP assistance.

Another $45,000 in LIHEAP money is set aside to provide air conditioner window units for those with chronic illnesses. Andrews said $30,000 of that was used to provide AC units to 800 homes in 2017.

Trump’s budget also calls for elimination of the estimated $400,000 used to fund the CAA’s Home Weatherization Assistance Program. Those who benefit from this program are also eligible for new energy-efficient furnaces and refrigerators through a program available through Ohio utility companies.

Also targeted for elimination of the federal Community Services Block Grant program –$286,000 — the CAA uses to help provide a variety of programs, such as public transportation, homebuyer education, additional utility assistance, food assistance and operation of an emergency homeless shelter. The CSBG is important because it is used to qualify for additional federal funding that makes up the CAA budget.

“This is money that is core funding for CAAs,” Andrews said, adding the CSBG money comes with less strings attached, giving them the flexibility to meet the county’s unique public assistance needs.

To be eligible for participation in these programs household incomes range from 125 percent of the federal poverty level ($31,375 for a household of four) to 200 percent of the federal poverty level ($50,200). The poverty level is base on actual income and does not include any other government assistance participants may be receiving, such as food stamps, Medicaid, etc.