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Heating assistance program may receive deep cuts

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Winter is on its way to South Bend, but for the thousands who depend on government help to stay warm, they may have to look elsewhere.

"For our families, the families we can help, winter months are always difficult," said Ingrid Simmons, Energy Assistance Program Director.

According to the U.S. Government, St. Joseph County's heating assistance program, LIHEAP, could lose nearly $1 million in funding.

Simmons said the federal program's budget is still being decided, but if there are cuts, changes will have to be made.

"What we have to look at is, if we have a lower budget, do we want to serve less families with higher benefits or do we serve more families with less benefits," said Simmons.

If there's a large enough increase in need over last year, some people may be out of luck.

"There have been years where we had to take a waiting list, because we weren't sure how far the budget was going to go," said Simmons. "The funding was then available and we were able to help everybody."

Simmons has no idea if that funding will come through like in year's past.

She said either way though, this winter is bound to be tough for some families.

"If they have a $200 heating bill, because it's cold outside, that's a hardship for the family," Simmons said. "That's a hardship regardless of what the budget looks like."

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