It is hard to think of winter's problems in mid-August but an article on the opposite page today is a reminder that they are not far away. Among the worst of them, as Tom Nees makes clear, will be the impact of the energy crisis on low-income families who rent the apartments in which they live.Mr. Nees fears that in this city (and no doubt in others) many of these people will be cold or hungry or homeless once winter comes.

That is not a comfortable thought, mid-August or not. But it may well come true. A family that is just scraping by now will be hard put to pay both its rent and food bills once the increased price of fuel is passed on by the landlord.

It is not at all clear that Congress will pass a fuel stamp or comparable program in time to ease this problem before the bad days of December and January. Nor is it clear that such a program would cover the difficulties of those who pay for fuel via their rent instead of paying for it directly.

That means the burden of providing some kind of help for these low-income families may well fall on local governments this winter. Mid-August is not too early for these governments -- in particular the District government -- to begin planning seriously the actions they will take when heating oil hits $1 a gallon, rents go up 20 or 30 percent and the poor have to choose between eating and being warm.