The after-the-last-minute fiscal cliff deal reached Tuesday night solved only half the sequestration problem.

Congress addressed the automatic tax increases hanging over the heads of most Americans, but lawmakers punted on the arbitrary budget cuts that also were set to kick in this new year.

In two months, Congress once again will try to replace automatic reductions in military and non-entitlement discretionary spending -- which President Barack Obama likened to a "chainsaw" approach to debt reduction -- with a more focused alternative.

When it comes to those surgical cuts, we hope everyone involved follows the advice of Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey: Be smart.

The Democrat made the remark last month while urging the president to protect funding for the Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which provides assistance for people struggling with their heating bills during the coldest months of the year.

Funding for the program has decreased 32 percent in recent years -- from $5.1 billion in 2009 to about $3 billion this year -- and Obama has proposed another 50 percent reduction as he works to trim $4 trillion in debt, according to Casey.

"Additional cuts will leave people literally, not figuratively, out in the cold," he said. "... I've voted for $1 trillion in cuts already, and I know we need more cuts. But cuts have to be smart."


Casey and other senators actually requested LIHEAP funding increase to $4.7 billion in the fiscal year 2014 budget. Maybe that's not realistic, but cutting the budget to $1.5 billion certainly doesn't seem wise -- or compassionate.

The program is potentially a life-saving safety net for people who, for one reason or another, find themselves in a desperate situation.

LIHEAP provides cash grants to energy providers serving low-income residents and also offers crisis grants to people with heating emergencies, such as having no heating oil or dealing with a broken furnace.

Income eligibility is $16,755 for a one-person household and $22,695 for a two-person household. The income limit increases by $5,940 per each additional person in the household.

Cash grants became available on Nov. 1, and crisis grants were available starting Jan. 2.

Since November, 146,416 LIHEAP grants have been provided in Pennsylvania, and 4,365 of those grants were issued in York County, according to Department of Public Welfare statistics.

Last year, the department used $1.5 million to help 8,299 York County families receive regular LIHEAP funds, and another 2,268 households in the county received $574,221 in crisis grants.

LIHEAP might be discretionary spending, but there's nothing wasteful or unnecessary about it, not when so many of our friends and neighbors are struggling.

Unemployment in Pennsylvania remains high at 7.8 percent as of November, and in some counties more than 9 percent can't find a job, according to Casey.

Throw in something unexpected, like a broken furnace or an illness, and LIHEAP might be their only options.

We hope our elected officials in Washington keep that in mind.