Should the federal government be providing heating subsidies for dead people?

President Trump's budget cuts funding for the LIHEAP program, which pays for heating and air conditioning bills for poor people.  And rich people.  And dead people.  And prisoners.

[M]ore than 11,000 dead people and hundreds of prisoners were used as applicants for LIHEAP benefits. More than 1,000 federal employees whose salary exceeded the maximum income threshold also received benefits. In several cases, people living in million-dollar homes paid their utility bills using money from the program, which is run by the Department of Health and Human Services.

The GAO report uncovered in Illinois $540 in energy assistance given to an applicant who used the identities of two deceased family members to qualify for the funds. In New Jersey, the program gave $3,200 in assistance to a nursing home whose director claimed to represent eight patients residing in the facility, but whose care was already covered by Medicaid.

GAO investigators also posed as prospective LIHEAP recipients by producing bogus addresses, fabricating energy bills and pay stubs when applying for assistance. Many of the claims received payments.


A popular program that helps poor people pay their heating bills is easy to cheat because the state department running it doesn't keep close enough watch on the private agencies doling out the benefits, according to a report by the Office of the State Comptroller. 

Some applicants submitted phony social security numbers or misleading income information. One social security number was for a dead person, and it had been used in 25 different applications.

The comptroller launched the inquiry into the program after it got a tip that the Puerto Rican Action Board, a private, nonprofit social service agency in Middlesex County, was "cutting corners" to enrollment quotas. Some applicants received benefit without having to document their income, the comptroller found.

At the New York Times, a woman says that if she doesn't get her heating subsidy, she will be forced to move in with family members, and she would much rather that taxpayers took care of her.

Ms. Feltner said that without the heating subsidy she would probably have to move in with her daughter and two teenage grandchildren. "I'd still like to have a little dignity left, and not have to move in with someone else," she said.

All this raises an interesting question – how did people live in the northern part of the country before heating subsidies?  Did people regularly freeze to death in their homes?

A clue to this can be found in a WaPo article, which states that:

[T]he biggest problem with LIHEAP appears to be that it's chronically underfunded: It's typically only able to serve 20 percent of eligible homes each year before funding runs out.

So if 80% of people eligible for LIHEAP are not getting it, and we haven't read about people freezing to death in their homes (have you? I haven't), we can safely conclude that LIHEAP is a luxury, not a life essential.

Furthermore, if states like New Hampshire or Vermont have problems with people being cold in the winter, why can't they pay to subsidize their residents' own bills?  Why should people in Florida and Georgia be asked to pay for them?

This is another program that is not only rife with fraud, but also totally inappropriate to be funded on the federal level.  And I'd be very surprised to see it phased out.

Ed Straker is the senior writer at

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