Up the Heat on Bush
January 9, 2003
By David Swanson
afternoon three elderly women out of a group of 50 protesters
were arrested in Illinois Republican Party headquarters in
Chicago where they had settled in with blankets and declared
that they were spending the night. These families, many without
heat in their homes, were demanding that President Bush release
money for energy assistance and not slash funding for the
Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) this year.
At least the jail had heat.
Bush is speaking in Chicago today about how he can pretend
to try to stimulate the economy without doing the only thing
that might work, namely putting money in the hands of people
who need it. Bush believes that those who work for a living
should go on being taxed, but that money gained from investments
in the stock market should not be taxed. And why not? Surely
there's nothing useful our government could do with $600 billion.
I guess no one would be pleased if this money were used, for
example, to create good public schools?
This president has an amazing power to make people feel physically
ill by the sheer force of his cynical cruelty. But some people
are ill for a less intellectual reason: they have no heat.
Mahaley Somerville, 81; Gwendolyn Stewart, 68; Beatrice Jackson,
53; and Virginia Goldman, 27, were arrested for trespassing
at 32 W. Randolph, 17th floor, the offices of the Illinois
and Cook County Republican Party yesterday when they went
to call on President Bush to rescind his proposed cuts in
federal energy assistance.
"I'm 81 years old, and these old bones would be more comfortable
in my own bed tonight," said Mahaley Somerville, longtime
leader of the community group ACORN and organizer in Chicago's
Westside Lawndale community. "But as long as there are other
senior citizens living without heat tonight, we will not stop
until the President hears us."
Because President Bush will make his national speech on the
economy in Chicago today, ACORN members called on him to add
two things to his speech: Release the $500 million in emergency
energy assistance funds that are at his disposal; Fund the
Low Income Home Energy Program (LIHEAP) at the same level
as last year: $1.7 billion (instead of the $1.4 billion or
less that Bush has threatened).
"It's too bad when the Republicans have to put senior citizens
in jail and leave other seniors without heat," said Beatrice
Jackson, president of Illinois ACORN. "But we won't stop until
Bush understands that a leader should not let his people freeze."
More than 50 members of ACORN joined in the sit-in at Republican
headquarters on Monday afternoon. The security guard in the
lobby stood with his arms out as everyone trooped in, got
in elevators, and headed to the 17th floor. The ACORN members
went in, put down their blankets and pillows, and announced
they were spending the night.
The leaders, Mrs. Somerville, Gwen Stewart and Bea Jackson,
made statements. "We're willing to go to jail if that's what
it takes to win heating assistance for seniors and children
and families who are freezing," they said.
Doris Rodgers spoke. She is 81, has been without heat for
two years, and still owes $2,400 on her bill, though the gas
company confirmed today that she had been paying every month.
The police arrived and arrested four ACORN leaders on charges
of misdemeanor trespassing.
While the 50 ACORN members were in the Republican Party headquarters,
the phone rang, and an ACORN member answered it "ACORN, Can
I help you?"
On the other end, they said, "What, ACORN? Wait a minute,
this is the Republican Party in D.C. calling the Republican
Party in Illinois."
The ACORN member said, "ACORN has taken over the Republican
Party in Illinois. Can I help you?"
The response: "Oh my God."
But the heart and soul of the Republican party will not be
taken over so easily by decency or kindness.
A cold winter and high fuel prices mean hard times for working
families who struggle to keep their heat on. Home heating
oil prices in the Northeast are expected to increase by 42%
from last winter. Propane in the Midwest is predicted to increase
by 21% and natural gas prices in the Midwest are predicted
to increase by 17% over last winter's bills. Reports from
around the country show that the number of households being
disconnected are on the rise.
The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) is
a federal block grant program that provides money to help
low-income families heat and cool their homes. LIHEAP is essential
for protecting the health and safety of low-income children,
seniors, and persons with disabilities.
For low-income people, whose incomes are often fixed, the
increased cost of energy is a huge burden and getting heavier.
In FY 2001, when LIHEAP received a total of $2.25 billion
(regular plus emergency funds), states were only able to serve
17% of eligible households. The current economic downturn
further exacerbates LIHEAP funding shortfalls. Unemployment
is on the rise, the U.S. poverty rate increased last year
for the first time in eight years, and household income declined
in 2001 after remaining flat a year earlier.
The demand for LIHEAP is on the rise. President Bush has
$500 million dollars in emergency LIHEAP funds at his disposal
but refuses to release it. $200 million of these funds are
leftover from the $300 million Congress appropriated for energy
emergencies in FY 2002. $300 million of it has been approved
by the Senate and requested by Bush himself for this fiscal
year. President Bush has the sole authority to release these
funds to low-income consumers.
FY 2003 appropriations must be finalized by Congress in January,
and LIHEAP advocates are urging Congress to provide funding
at no less than $1.7 billion, plus the $300 million in emergency
appropriations. The President has proposed cutting funding
to $1.4 billion (plus $300 million in emergency funds) for
FY 2003. In FY 2002, Congress appropriated $1.7 billion (plus
$300 million in emergency funds) for LIHEAP. The Bush Administration's
proposed cuts in LIHEAP funding would mean that approximately
500,000 fewer low-income families would receive assistance.
And according to the Energy Information Administration, last
year's $1.7 billion regular LIHEAP budget would have to be
increased by $345 million this year just for the program to
provide assistance to the same number of households as last
The 108th Congress will complete FY 2003 appropriations when
it convenes this month. In the event that Congress cuts LIHEAP
funding, states are considering several actions to implement
the Administration's proposal, including reducing eligibility
ceilings, cutting benefits, and limiting program sign-up periods.
In other words: a lot more people will be a lot colder this
This needn't be. The president could promote LIHEAP funding
as a payoff to fuel companies if it makes him feel better
about doing something that actually helps people, but he needs
to release this money or people are going to freeze.
David Swanson is communications coordinator for ACORN