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

Bath Iron Works could benefit — the budget calls for more of the type of Navy destroyers the Bath shipyard builds.

But the proposal also requests new rounds of base closures — Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery dodged the last round in 2005, but might still be vulnerable.

Congress is sure to make changes to the $3.8 trillion budget proposal released Monday for the 2013 fiscal year beginning in October.

The plan calls for $3 billion for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which is more than the $2.57 billion initially requested for 2012. But LIHEAP got $4.7 billion in 2011. Despite pressure by Maine and other lawmakers representing cold-winter states to win that amount for 2012, Congress increased it only to $3.5 billion.

That means Maine will get less than $40 million in LIHEAP funding this winter, compared with $56.5 million last winter. Aid payments to Maine households are expected to average $483 this winter — last winter, 63,802 Maine LIHEAP payments averaged $802.

A number of lawmakers — including the entire Maine congressional delegation — pleaded with Obama to request at least $4.7 billion for LIHEAP in his 2013 budget.

Obama’s budget acknowledges that rising heating oil prices are a problem, and says it will target more of the proposed LIHEAP money to “states with vulnerable households facing high home heating costs for winter 2012-2013.” It is not clear what that might mean for Maine.

Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, said Monday that she will continue to push for more LIHEAP funding. GOP Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said that she is “troubled that, yet again, the administration doesn’t recognize the importance of adequately funding” LIHEAP.

The proposed budget would benefit BIW and parent company General Dynamics, despite cuts to overall defense spending.

The budget proposes funding construction of two new Burke class destroyers for 2013, and a total of nine through 2017.

It is not yet clear how many of the ships BIW, which employs about 5,400 people, would build. The Maine shipyard competes for Burke destroyer contracts with the Huntington Ingalls shipyard in Pascagoula, Miss.

As expected, BIW received a $680 million contract for a new Burke last year. But the Bath shipyard then beat out Pascagoula for the right to build a second Burke, the contract for which had been up for grabs. Defense analysts have said BIW has the edge when it comes to landing Burke work.

What was not yet available Monday, however, was a long-awaited update of the Navy’s 30-year ship building plan. Collins and BIW officials have said that they hope the Navy will plan to build an average of two destroyers a year over the long run, compared with the 1.5 per year average in the current plan.

Collins, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, praised the proposal to build two more Burke destroyers. But she criticized the budget’s lack of funding to improve the infrastructure at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, which overhauls submarines and employs about 4,600 civilian workers.

A possibly greater threat looming for the public Naval yard in Kittery is the administration’s formal request in the budget for new rounds of military base closures in 2013 and 2015.

Defense analysts and members of Congress from Maine and New Hampshire disagreed over how vulnerable the shipyard might be last month when Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced the base closure idea.

Maine lawmakers said the facility is too valuable to close, but one analyst said it’s a potential target because there will be less work in the future on the nuclear submarines it overhauls.

The Portsmouth shipyard was on the Defense Department’s base closure list in 2005, but that recommendation was overturned by the independent Base Realignment and Closure Commission.

Jonathan Riskind — 791-6280

[email protected]

Twitter: Twitter.com/MaineTodayDC


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