Valley Residents Ask DeLauro To Preserve Heating Help Program
Valley Indepdent Sentinel

Rep. Rosa DeLauro visited Derby Monday to highlight a federal program that helps more than 3,000 Valley residents pay their heat and electric bills — and a “staggering” request from President Trump to eliminate funding for it in next year’s budget.

A half-dozen people helped by the program met with DeLauro inside the offices of TEAM Inc., where they told the congresswoman how important that help has been to them and their families.

“This program has saved my life,” Derby’s Crisann Keeney said, telling DeLauro of the challenges of raising a child while dealing with her own medical issues. “If I’m sitting in the cold, I’m going to get more ill.”

DeLauro vowed to “fight like hell” to preserve the funding for the program, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).

TEAM President David Morgan began Monday’s event by noting that LIHEAP, which TEAM administers locally, has served 3,312 Valley households this winter alone.

Of those households, Morgan said 72 percent include either a child under 5, an elderly person, or someone with a disability.

For example, Amanda Diaz, a nurse from Derby, is raising 5- and 7-year-old children.

Programs like LIHEAP are “vital” to working families, she told DeLauro.

“I work full-time, I’m not a person who sits at home,” Diaz said. “It’s because of TEAM and because of programs that they offer that I have learned to be financially independent.”

“I now can teach my children how not to rely and depend on the assistance,” she said. “It’s there to help you, to give you a stepping stone to get to the next level.”

Keeney agreed, saying her own medications cost thousands of dollars per month.

She said the government shouldn’t eliminate funding from programs for helping those who need it most.

“How dare they talk about cutting programs that people depend on,” Keeney said, at times wiping away tears while recounting her personal story to DeLauro. “You’re talking about human lives.”

Roger Martin, another Derby resident, told DeLauro of how he became unemployed after having a six-figure job. He also suffers from glaucoma, he said.

“People all over the state I’ve seen in positions they never thought they’d find themselves in,” Martin said. “The heating program may have saved my life this year.”

Ebony Gattison, an Ansonia resident, said she recently completed a course at Griffin Hospital to become a certified nurse’s assistant.

“My 20-year-old tells me all the time we don’t have a bond because I spent her whole life working. I spent her whole life going to training programs,” Gattison said. “I don’t want that for my youngest. I thought that I was making moves doing what I needed to do . . . What happens if they cut this program?”

Gattison said parents have to make painful decisions to economize.

“You’re going to do what you have to do to make sure your family is OK,” she said, asking how Trump could propose cutting programs like LIHEAP while trying to “justify making Americans pay billions of dollars to build a wall.”

DeLauro vowed to fight to preserve funding to LIHEAP and a raft of other federal programs facing potential cutbacks.

She said Trump’s budget proposal “values people who are affluent . . . over working Americans and low-income Americans.”

DeLauro said Trump’s budget proposal would cut help to other important programs, like Meals on Wheels.

“We’re looking at a budget that would cut $54 billion from non-defense programs,” DeLauro said.

She referred to the president’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, saying the programs have not shown “results.”

The rationale is “wrong-headed,” she said, and shows “a lack of understanding of what’s going on in people’s lives today.”

After Monday’s event, where she was joined by Derby Mayor Anita Dugatto, DeLauro asked the public to contact their representatives in Washington and tell them to disregard Trump’s budget proposal, pointing to the GOP’s failure last week to repeal “Obamacare” as proof that a public outcry won’t fall on deaf ears.

“The public has to speak out,” DeLauro said. “They were the key to the victory over repealing the Affordable Care Act, and they will be the key to the victory on the budget.”

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