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Bitter cold temperatures push some Americans toward poverty line

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On this Sunday’s PBS NewsHour Weekend, we took a closer look at the difficulties some low-income Americans face during winter months, when higher-than-usual energy bills put an enormous strain on family finances.

We chose the topic in part because it illustrates a direct connection between federal policy and the experience of Americans who are recipients of often-limited government aid.

We also wanted to understand how communities like Asheville, N.C., in a time of budget cuts, are combining resources and relying on a combination of public and private efforts to keep poor families warm this winter season.

For our reporting, NewsHour Weekend zeroed in on how one nonprofit agency, Eblen Charities, is helping thousands of families keep the heat running.

When utility bills become unmanageable, low-income families can turn to a federal program called the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP. The program offers utility bill subsidies and provides funds for other services like insulating and sealing up drafty homes and apartments.

In North Carolina, this federal program is the main source of government assistance for needy families in the winter. But since 2011, overall funding for the LIHEAP program has steadily decreased.

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Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Graphic by Daniel Finley/NewsHour Weekend

The decline in funding has had a direct impact on the payouts and other services families receive. In Asheville, for example, the cuts have meant that private nonprofits are left to fill in the gaps.

During our January visit to nonprofit Eblen Charities, we met four Asheville-area residents whose budgets are stretched by monthly utility payments. They shared their stories with NewsHour Weekend.

Do home heating costs in the winter months make it harder for your family to make ends meet?

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Chasing the Dream: Poverty and Opportunity in America is a multi-platform public media initiative that provid​es a deeper understanding of the impact of poverty on American society. Major funding for this initiative is provided by The JPB Foundation. Additional funding is provided by Ford Foundation and the Annie E. Casey Foundation.​

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