By John Lynds
East Boston residents Joe and Katherine Oliveri worked their entire lives but have no pension and the small amount of social security they get to live on sometimes is not enough.
This is the reason why Citizens Energy Chairman Joseph P. Kennedy II joined with U.S. Reps. Michael Capuano and John Drew, president of ABCD at the Oliveri’s home on Princeton Street Tuesday to speak out against cuts in the federal fuel assistance program proposed by President Barack Obama–who was set to visit Boston later that afternoon.
The Oliveris are one of 3,000 families in Eastie that rely on fuel assistance to stay warm during the harsh winter months. Many couples like the Oliveris have to sometimes decide between heating their home or putting food on their table.
They are the reason why Community Service Block Grants (CSBG), which fund fuel assistance programs through ABCD’s East Boston APAC office and Citizens Energy should not be slashed by half when tax cuts for the wealthy are extended argued Kennedy at the press conference.
The Oliveris, who saw their federal Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program benefit drop by 30 percent this year would have their current allotment cut in half under the President’s budget proposal.
“The first thing they put on the chopping block was fuel assistance?”, asked Kennedy. “At the same time they protected the richest people in this country from any kind of tax give-back–a trillion-dollar deal to preserve tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. That is just wrong.”
Flanked by the Oliveris, Capuano and Drew, Kennedy pointed to rising cost of home heating fuel and the particularly harsh winter New England has faced as reasons the Obama Administration should not callously act on its proposed cuts.
Katherine Oliveri, 82, said fuel assistance has helped her and her husband balance their budget during the winter.
“A drastic cut would be detrimental,” she said. “It would mean not having money for medications, food and other necessities.”
This year, the Oliveri’s allotment of $650 in fuel assistance paid for less than one full tank of oil.
Holding up the couple’s utility bills, Capuano called Obama’s plan to cut CSBG funded fuel assistance could sink the Oliveris into abject poverty and subject them to a dangerous lifestyle of choosing fuel over food or medications.
“What will they be able to afford, one gallon of oil?” he asked holding up the couple’s bills. “I agree we have to balance the budget but what bothers me is that this is the first thing offered up as the sacrifice while we are spending billions of dollars on defense and trillions of dollars on tax cuts for the wealthy. The Administration seemed to find the money for those things.”
Cutting CSBG might also force ABCD to close some, or all, of its 13 sites across Boston like East Boston APAC.
Drew said his agency has seen fuel assistance application soar due to the rise in unemployment coupled with the cost of heating fuel.
“We used to serve 15,000 families every year and now we have 24,000 applications,” said Drew.
At APAC, Director Amy Lima said the neighborhood’s most vulnerable population like the Oliveris will be asking ‘where do we go’ if APAC is forced to close its doors.
“CSBGs are the lifeline for APAC,” said Lima. “If we close there will be nowhere else for poor East Boston residents to turn to for the unique support APAC provides.”
APAC has spent 45 years operating in Eastie whose mission is overcoming poverty and serves 2977 low-
“Our services include Fuel Assistance, Head Start, Free Tax Preparation, Summer Youth Employment, Window Guard Distribution Program, Toys for Tots, Holiday Food, Case Management, Credit Counseling and we hope to offer more educational programs in the future to assist people in overcoming poverty through education,” said Lima. “If we haven’t helped you directly–we have helped your mother, your cousin, or your next door neighborhood.”
Lima said APAC has never asked for money before but with looming cuts the agency must raise, in order keep the APAC doors open, $50,000 by June 1.
For more information on how to help contact Amy Lima at the APAC office at 617-567-8857.