President Barack Obama's proposed federal budget could mean "drastic cuts" for the poorest people of York, Chester and Lancaster counties who rely on emergency heating and other federal programs for the poor.
Republicans, responding immediately to the Democratic president's proposal, said help for the poor should be cut even more.
Walter Kellogg, executive director of Carolina Community Actions, which administers the federal heating assistance and other programs locally, is worried about the proposed 50 percent cut - to $1.3 million from $2.6 million - for emergency heating assistance in five area counties.
"Any time you cut half the money," Kellogg said, "that means we can only offer half the services to the neediest people out there."
News of these "drastic cuts" to emergency heating subsidies for the poorest among us come as the poor have weathered the coldest winter in 75 years.
"Drastic cuts" to employment programs that help train under-employed or unemployed people. Smaller cuts, about 5 percent, are expected for Head Start programs for preschool kids and other programs such as weatherizing homes that lack storm windows or windows that lack glass.
Karen Key, finance director for Carolina Community Actions, said the cuts look to be so severe next year that agency offices might have to be open shorter hours or fewer days per week, benefits could be slashed, or the agency would help far fewer people.
Or a combination of all three.
Brother David Boone of the Catholic Oratory is chairman of the 20-member board of directors for Carolina Community Actions. He has spent more than 30 years on the board and more 50 years helping the poor of Rock Hill.
The proposed cuts would be by far the worst the agency has ever had to weather, he said.
"We have our budget set for this year running through the end of September," Boone said, "but looking after that, we will have to study what we get for 2012 and how we can help people best with less."
The agency, which has helped tens of thousands of people since 1965, is considered the recipient of "discretionary" money, said Kellogg.
Discretionary means that the federal government does not have to pay it, as it has to pay "entitlements" such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
At the same time rich politicians of both parties were deciding who had the heart to cut the most from the poor on Valentine's Day, the people who get this kind of help from Carolina Community Actions started lining up before 7 a.m. Monday morning - almost two hours before the doors opened. The place stayed busy into the afternoon.
Nobody there had any "discretionary" money or any other money. They hadn't heard about the proposed federal budget cuts, because there is no TV in the waiting room.
All had spent hours hoping to keep the heat on in their homes and were at Carolina Community Actions to prove they were poor enough to qualify.
What they all shared was huge utility bills. This year's money has already been sent for this winter's emergency assistance, said Kellogg, so people Monday had some hope.
At one end of a row of sat Mary Burris, with two kids in her home. Her bill is $788.29, with cut-off looming. Burris was asked how she will keep the lights on for her family if she received no assistance this year.
"I don't know," said Burris.
Politicians of both parties, still, at the same time were racing to cut the benefits for Mary Burris and her kids next year.
In another line of a row of chairs sat Yolanda Bryson. Her heating bill: $535.75. Next to her, relative Rosa Bryson. $779.42 was the total for Rosa Bryson's bill.
Rosa Bryson, in her 70s, gets a little more than $800 per month from Social Security after a lifetime of work.
She could spend all her Social Security on heat, and have $21 and some change left to eat.
Next to the Brysons was Meredith Jenkins, who carried a bill of $662.14 to heat her home for her and her disabled daughter, age 13.
Jenkins, laid off from her job last year and no longer eligible for unemployment benefits, said she gets $674 per month in disability benefits for her daughter.
If Jenkins takes all the money she gets this month, she can pay her utility bills. Then Jenkins and her daughter would have $11.86 to eat with for the month.
Yet the politicians of both parties spent Monday racing to be the fastest to cut heating assistance for Jenkins and her disabled daughter next year.
Next to her was 64-year-old Juanita Crump with a utility bill of $811. Crump works, has four children and 13 grandchildren. Yet she does not have $811, nor did anybody in that room.
"I don't know what I will do this month," Crump said. "I can't worry about next year right now."
As these ladies talked of their huge bills, one lady walked out with a piece of paper that showed what Carolina Community Actions can do.
The paper showed that she will get $532.87 in assistance to turn her heat back on. She has three children in her home, all under age 12.
That woman was close to tears because she can go home now and have heat, which she has not had since last week. She had chosen food for her children over heat.
Next year, she might get no help for those children, or surely less if the cuts go through.
That's what happened on Valentine's Day, the day of the big heart, mothers talking about the choice of food or heat at Carolina Community Actions - as politicians in Washington talked of making "tough choices."