'Nightly News' Pleads for Increased Welfare State

     Call it a case of bad timing. With oil prices down significantly in recent months, the NBC “Nightly News” on Nov. 12 called for the federal government to address high heating oil prices facing the poor this winter.

     “If you’ve looked at the price of oil lately, then you’ve seen it falling hard,” host Brian Williams said. “That would be good news, but home heating oil prices have been slow to follow. And despite record levels of government help available, at least to pay heating bills, communities around this country are worried people will simply not have enough money to keep warm in the cold winter during this cold economy.”

     The segment found one elderly man having difficulty making ends meet. According to 82-year-old John McPherson, he sometimes goes without food to pay heating bills. And he’s not the only one, according to NBC correspondent Michelle Kosinski.

      “[T]his winter could be worse,” Kosinski said. “Just as more Americans are facing financial tough times and a cold winter is predicted, the U.S. Department of Energy says we will still be paying more than the five-year average to heat our homes this winter, even with falling oil prices.”

     The report said electric heat will cost “nearly 10 percent more” than it did a year ago and natural gas is more than 3 percent higher. And even though heating oil bills could be as much as 13 percent lower, “that’s still $500 more than the five-year average,” Kosinski said.

     But things may not be as bad as suggested by the heating oil statistics Kosinski cited. According to an article posted on Bloomberg’s Web site on Nov. 12, heating oil prices are almost 30 percent lower than forecasts were predicting just one month ago.

     “Heating oil users will spend an average $1,694 this winter, down 29 percent from $2,388 forecast last month and 13 percent lower than the average $1,953 spent by households last winter,” Mark Shenk and Reg Curren wrote.

     “The falling heating-oil prices are good news for all the homeowners that didn't lock in prices for this winter,” Tancred Lidderdale, a government economist, said to Bloomberg.

     But in the NBC piece, John Drew, the head of Action for Boston Community Development, a charitable organization supported by liberal Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy, called for the national government to do more.

     “People do not have enough income,” Drew said. “I’m gonna get really upset. Do not have enough income to live on, who’ve worked hard all their lives. There’s infants who are at risk. And as a national government, as a national priority, we have got to do better.”

     The segment followed Drew’s call for the national government to do better by citing a study with some tough numbers. According to statistics from the National Energy Assistance Survey, 73 percent of low-income families have cut back on necessities to afford heat. An estimated 35 percent went without medical care and 20 percent went without food for at least a day.

      Yet, despite these statistics, Robin Sherman, a research manager at the University of Massachusetts Donahue Institute explained to Kosinski that everyone can’t have their heating bill automatically paid.

      “It’s hard to imagine a situation where we could afford to buy fuel for all of the people who are going to have difficulty,” Sherman said.