TRENTON -- Nearly 300,000 homes of elderly and disabled people in New Jersey are warm this winter thanks to a federal government that helps pay the utility bills.
On Thursday, however, the Trump administration submitted a budget that calls for discontinuing the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, better known as LIHEAP, ineffective.
The 62-page document, "America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again calls for scrapping he entire $4.2 billion national program -- including the $97 million spent in New Jersey this year.
"Compared to other income support programs that serve similar populations, LIHEAP is a lower-impact program and is unable to demonstrate strong performance outcomes," according to budget proposal.
The elimination of the utility assistance program was one of many surprises in the Trump budget, which calls for cuts to except for Defense, Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security.
The budget message said the cuts "are sensible and rational. Every agency and department will be driven to achieve greater efficiency and to eliminate wasteful spending in carrying out their honorable service to the American people."
But the deep cuts of some programs and the wholesale elimination of others like LIHEAP angered and stunned people who work with working poor, elderly and disabled New Jerseyans.
"These proposed cuts will have a devastating impact on working families in New Jersey," said Cecilia Zalkind, president and CEO of Advocates for Children of New Jersey, a nonprofit research and advocacy organization focusing on family issues.
Organizations likes hers will work hard to share the stories of people hurt by the budget proposal with federal lawmakers, Zalkind said.
"I think our congressional leaders and state legislators need to think long and hard about these cuts and the impact they will have on the families they represent," Zalkind added. "Coupled with the proposed cuts to Medicaid, it will be a disaster for New Jersey."
President Trump and the Republican-led Congress introduced legislation last week that replaces the Affordable Care Act and replaces it with one that ends the Medicaid program as an open-ended entitlement program for the poor.
More than 550,000 people in New Jersey have signed up for Medicaid since the landmark health care law, which pays at least 90 percent of the tab for these enrollees. The price tag is $4.4 billion and climbing.
"If the federal budget is a reflection of our values, then clearly President Trump doesn't value America's working and middle class families," U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez said (D-N.J.) "This budget would be devastating to New Jersey families and communities, especially those struggling to get ahead."
Trump's budget would also:
* End the $3 billion Community Development Block Grant, which funds programs like Meals on Wheels. Last year, 5 million meals were provided for 54,000 elderly and disabled people in New Jersey.
"The Federal Government has spent over $150 billion on this block grant since its inception in 1974, but the program is not well-targeted to the poorest populations and has not demonstrated results," the budget proposal says.
"Meals on Wheels sounds great," White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said on Thursday. "We're not going to spend [money] on programs that cannot show that they actually deliver the promises that we've made to people."
Ellie Hollander, president and CEO for Meals on Wheels America, replied to Mulvaney's comments, saying the block grant cut would not shutter the program. There are other government and private funds that support the program.
"So, while we don't know the exact impact yet, cuts of any kind to these highly successful and leveraged programs would be a devastating blow to our ability to provide much-needed care for millions of vulnerable seniors in America, which in turn saves billions of dollars in reduced healthcare expenses" she said.
* Eliminate funding for the Legal Services Corporation, which represents low-income clients in civil court matters such as evictions, foreclosures and family court cases. In New Jersey, Legal Services counts on $7.6 million from the federal government to support its work. Gov. Chris Christie has proposed cutting the state appropriation by $5 million in the coming year.
* Dissolve several Housing and Urban Development programs that promote home ownership in cities and rehabilitates old housing stock, saving $1.1 billion.
* Spend $500 million more to treat people who abuse heroin and opioid drugs and to prevent addiction. The opioid epidemic claimed 33,000 lives in 2015, including 1,600 in New Jersey.
* Preserve $6.2 billion to maintain the Women, Infants and Children nutritional assistance program. In New Jersey, 273,000 women and children participated last year, according to the budget.
Advocacy organizations have begun building a case they will take to New Jersey's congressional leaders and Gov. Chris Christie so funding is protected.
"The budget 'blueprint' unveiled by the Trump administration this week is more like a wrecking ball for New Jersey's low- and moderate-income residents, the state's finances and some of the key investments the state's economy needs to get back on track," said Jon Whiten of New Jersey Policy Perspective, a left-leaning research organization.
"Federal grants make up nearly one-third of New Jersey's budget, and the Trump proposal decimates the federal dollars that go into many of these grants -- particularly those that serve the working poor and the impoverished," Whiten added.