Heating Bills: The New Homelessness for the NYT?

Perhaps the media's most cherished holiday tradition is the middle-class poverty story, which alleges that hunger and homelessness are now stalking the previously impervious middle class, stories often based on dubious numbers from the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Now, clear a place: Heating bills are joining hunger and homelessness at the liberal groaning board.

The Times discovers middle-class needy in Stony Brook, N.Y., in Sunday's Metro section story by Paul Vitello ("Middle Class Gets in Line for Help With Rising Heating Bills").

"The main government assistance office in Suffolk County sits just off a busy road in an office park surrounded by a neighborhood of deep lawns and two-car garages. Everyone for miles around uses that road every day. But until recently, hardly anyone from the neighborhood -- people whose status in the middle class was thought secured unquestionably by homeownership -- ever turned into the office park to seek help inside the county's nondescript building. This year, they have come in from the fear of the cold. They are retirees, young couples, the temporarily unemployed, the two-income families stretched to the limit of second mortgages and credit cards, a slice of the suburban demographic that social workers call 'mortgage rich and pocket poor.'"

Vitello points fingers at the federal government and energy companies: "Elected officials from cold weather states have pushed hard for substantial increases in financing for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which provided about five million people with benefits last winter. Those efforts, however, have so far failed to bring an increase from last year's allocation, which was about $2.2 billion. Governors and lawmakers say about $5 billion would be necessary to meet the needs of the six million eligible people expected to apply for aid this year. A parallel drive to impose a windfall-profits tax on energy companies, which have reported record profits, has also stalled. Fairly or not, the energy companies have taken much of the blame from those who pay an ever-larger share of income for heat."

There's the usual liberal litany of having to sacrifice food for heating (as opposed to the usual food for medicine trade-off trumpted by anti-poverty advocates and the media): "In a study released this year by the National Regulatory Resources Institute, the research arm of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, people who struggled with their winter heating bills reported varying degrees of having gone without food, without medicine or dental care, of having taken less medication or of missing mortgage payments."

Vitello closes by dragging hunger into the story: "Gloria Boyd, a social worker from Notre Dame Roman Catholic Church in New Hyde Park who was helping the woman apply for assistance, leaned into the conversation at that point: 'You should know that people come to our food pantry because they're paying for their utilities and their oil and they can't afford to buy food. Write that down. This is a bad situation.'"

For more examples of New York Times bias, visit TimesWatch.

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