January 3, 2018 GMT

In a characteristically frigid parting shot, 2017 was coldest at the bitter end.

Between 11 p.m. and midnight on New Year’s Eve, the mercury at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport dipped to 3 degrees, the chilliest local low recorded last year, according to the National Weather Service.

We will soon suffer worse — Saturday is forecast to bottom out at minus 4 degrees — but 2017’s curtain call still seems notably intense.

This frigid blanket is expected to drape Northeast Pennsylvania into at least next week. For most of us, worries about a spike in future heating bills are easily smothered by the immediate need to stay warm.

Some among us can’t turn up the thermostat without help. LIHEAP keeps at least 300,000 Pennsylvania homes livable in the dark heart of winter.

The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program was established in 1981 to spare elderly and disabled Americans the choice between heating their homes and eating.

LIHEAP has undoubtedly saved thousands of American lives. Democrats and Republicans at every level of government have long judged LIHEAP unquestionably successful.

President Donald Trump — loud and proud champion of the working class — tried to kill LIHEAP in his first summer as CEO of a nation he has never seen.

Trump’s 2017-2018 budget proposed cutting all LIHEAP funding. ALL LIHEAP FUNDING.

Congressional Democrats naturally objected. Republicans did, too. The bulk of their voter base came of age when Social Security and Medicare were understood as sacred pacts between patriotic Americans and a government that actually cared about the public good.

In September, Congress voted to fund LIHEAP at 90 percent of the previous year’s funding, releasing $3 billion in LIHEAP money. Sounds like a lot of cash, until you spread it around to all the states that weather harsh winters.

The Pennsylvania Legislature agreed to make up the difference. For now.

The Scranton Lackawanna Human Development Agency has managed the LIHEAP program for decades. As of New Year’s Eve, the agency had “109 LIHEAP crisis referrals — 88 were repairs and 21 replacements (meaning there was no way to make the home’s current heating system work),” said Sam Ceccacci, executive director of the SLHDA.

The agency is making due with a LIHEAP budget that was trimmed by 6 percent. The cut could be even deeper when Congress gets around to passing a budget, Sam said.

I suggested it may be fortunate that the debate is unfolding during a severe cold snap. Sam said the most persuasive evidence is personal experience.

“Go home and shut off your heat,” he said. “See how long you last.”

CHRIS KELLY, the Times-Tribune columnist, is thankful for a working furnace and a warm wife. Contact the writer: kellysworld@timessham

rock.com, @cjkink on Twitter. Read his award-winning blog at blogs.thetimes-tribune.com/kelly.