WASHINGTON — President Obama’s proposed 2013 budget again cuts a heating assistance program that helps thousands of low-income Mainers.

The budget released this morning calls for $3 billion for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which the Obama administration stresses is more than the $2.57 billion it requested as part of its 2012 budget.

However, the program was granted $4.7 billion in 2011. Lawmakers from Maine and other cold weather states tried to persuade Congress to approve that same $4.7 billion for this year, but in a tough budget year Congress upped the ante only to $3.5 billion.

A number of lawmakers pleaded with Obama to request at least $4.7 billion for LIHEAP in his 2013 budget.

In a letter last month to Obama, GOP Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine and 38 other senators told the president that his proposed 2012 LIHEAP cut was “too deep to fully overcome” this year. That’s why, the senators told Obama, it was crucial that he seek $4.7 billion in the first place for LIHEAP in his 2013 budget.

Obama’s budget acknowledges that rising heating oil prices have left many people struggling to heat their homes in states like Maine where heating oil is widely used.

The budget document released today says it “targets funds to states with vulnerable households facing high home heating costs for winter 2012-2013.”

It is not clear what that might mean for Maine in terms of specific 2013 funding, if Congress follows Obama’s recommendation. But it presumably would still mean an overall cut in funding.

This winter, after Congress approved $3.5 billion total for the program nationally, Maine will get less than $40 million in LIHEAP funding, compared to $56.5 million last winter.

It has been estimated that the average Mainer on the program will get $483 over this heating season. Last winter, 63,802 Mainers got LIHEAP benefits averaging $802 over the season.

MaineToday Media Washington Bureau Chief Jonathan Riskind can be contacted at 791-6280 or at: [email protected] Twitter: Twitter.com/MaineTodayDC

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