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UTAHNS CLASH OVER VOTE TO END HEAT

Advocates for the poor are appalled by the U.S. House of Representatives' vote to eliminate federal funding for a program that pays utility bills of needy people.

But the president of the Utah Taxpayers Association says it's time to quit financing federal bureaucracies that take hefty cuts before they ship tax money back to the states.These widely divergent positions are a response to the House passing a bill Friday that would slash more than $9 billion from social programs, including a $1 billion account to help the poor pay utility bills. The measure now goes to the Senate for action.

The federal organization is called LIHEAP, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. Its Utah operation is HEAT, Home Energy Assistance Target.

HEAT receives about $10 million a year in federal money. Subtracting administrative costs and the expense of improving home insulation, about $8 million remains to help impoverished Utahns pay heating bills during the winter. Households must meet stringent eligibility standards and the amount they get also is affected by location (warm areas like St. George don't have as high heating costs).

Assistance for households along the Wasatch Front averages about $210 a year.

Elderly and disabled people have priority for the program, which is administered through the Utah Department of Human Services. Funds go directly from HEAT to the utility company that heats the home, whether it is by propane, natural gas, electricity or another source.

"It's been one of the most successful programs around. It basically helps people with their heating costs," said Bruce Plenk, staff attorney for Utah Legal Services, an organization that helps poor people.

"I think cutting these funds will definitely result in a lot of people not being able to pay their heating bills in winter in Utah. That, I'm afraid, will mean in the extreme that some people will freeze to death or at best be very uncomfortable."

Plenk called the proposed elimination of funding "one of the most mean-spirited of the cuts coming out of Congress."