To me, the “big story” this weekend was not the Super Bowl, but a front-page article in Saturday’s NYT, “In Fuel Oil Country, Cold That Cuts to the Heart,” by Dan Barry, which begins:
“With the darkening approach of another ice-hard Saturday night in western Maine, the man on the phone was pleading for help, again. His tank was nearly dry, and he and his disabled wife needed precious heating oil to keep warm. Could Ike help out? Again?
“Ike Libby, the co-owner of a small oil company called Hometown Energy, ached for his customer, Robert Hartford. He knew what winter in Maine meant, especially for a retired couple living in a wood-frame house built in the 19th century. But he also knew that the Hartfords already owed him more than $700 for two earlier deliveries.
“The oil man said he was very sorry. The customer said he understood. And each was left to grapple with a matter so mundane in Maine, and so vital: the need for heat.”
The story goes on to talk about the effects of cuts in the federal energy-assistance program — 65,000 families are affected just in Maine. While heating oil costs 40 cents a gallon more than last year, the average allotment has been cut almost in half, from $804 to $483. This is inexcusably cruel.
People like Mr. Hartford, a 68-year-old retired stonemason, and his 71-year-old wheelchair-bound wife are suffering. This year is worse for them than last year, and I believe if Mitt Romney wins, next year will be worse than this year, assuming they are still alive. Because Mitt says he’s going to balance the budget without raising taxes. God forbid he and his private equity friends should lose their 15% “carried interest” loophole and pay the normal rate of 35%.
Despite the Great Recession, we are still a rich country. A very, very rich country. We can afford to get the Hartfords (and their dog and four cats) through another winter.