Energy assistance programs for the elderly and the poor may be slashed more than 30 percent in Virginia this year as a result of proposed federal cutbacks, state officials said this week.
The budget cuts will mean severe reductions in money available for winter heating emergencies and energy home conservation programs for the elderly and needy, according to projections by officials attending a regional forum this week. The forum, sponsored by the Virginia Energy Coalition Task Force, was held Tuesday in Annandale.
"We're going to have to look at who will be receiving help out of a lot of people who all need help," said Rob Koreski of the Fairfax County Office of Human Services. "It's going to be a grim and grueling exercise."
Virginia's share of the federal money could be reduced from almost $40 million to $24 million, said Mark Kulyk, assistant coordinator of the state's Project Energy Care, which is conducting eight energy information forums statewide.
President Ronald Reagan originally proposed whittling the federal energy program from $1.85 billion to $1.4 billion. The president has now recommended slicing the funds by another 12 percent.
The energy assistance program was initiated three years ago to help older persons on fixed incomes and poor families cope with rapidly escalating home fuel bills.
Last year Virginia received $36 million in federal funds to help pay fuel bills for the aged and the poor. The state was given an additional $1.2 million to help finance emergency energy-related home repairs, and another $2.8 million to help the poor and elderly "weatherize" their homes through conservation measures.
The program has received mixed reviews. For some families, it has meant the difference between being able to repair a broken furnace in midwinter and suffering through bitter cold without heat. For others, according to critics of the program, it has meant ignoring utility bills and leaning on the federal money to pick up the costs.
Although local officials admit they don't yet know precisely how much the program will be cut, they have scheduled a state energy conference for Oct. 21 in Richmond to compile a list of recommendations for state officials and legislators as to how the money should be distributed.
Issues discussed at the eight regional conferences will be funneled into decision-making at the state meeting, according to Kulyk.