PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — With all this talk in Washington about making the wealthy pay more in taxes, or not raising taxes on the middle class, it’s easy to think this fiscal cliff is only about taxes.

But it’s also about automatic spending cuts of $55 billion this coming year in non-defense programs.

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“There are a number of vulnerable citizens in this city, in this state, and in this country who need to be protected during these conversations,” Just Harvest’s Rochelle Jackson told KDKA money editor Jon Delano.

“When we talk about the fiscal cliff, that’s who we need to be focusing on, the vulnerable whose voices are not being heard. They’re not at the table,” she added.

It’s called sequestration, and it could affect thousands of Pennsylvanians like those who need LIHEAP, the low income home energy assistance program.

“Pennsylvania could lose more than $18 million should we go down that path and Congress not be able to resolve the conflict,” said Scott Waitlevertch of Equitable Gas.

Waitlevertch warned that many could be left in the cold this winter.

“More than 180,000 Pennsylvanians might not be able to get a LIHEAP grant this winter heating season,” he said.

And the need is real, noted Cindy Datig, the CEO of the Dollar Energy Fund.

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“We are seeing a need for utility assistance. We are up about 10 percent from last year at this time,” added Datig.

It’s not just energy assistance that could keep people’s homes warm during a cold winter that could fall off this fiscal cliff.

Advocates for low income people say that other programs affecting many women and children are also at stake. For example, the WIC food program for women and infants will be cut, if we fall off the cliff.

“It’s a very important program. It provides milk and cheese and eggs, fruits and vegetables, whole grains,” said Jackson of Just Harvest.

And that’s not all.

According to the Senate Appropriations Committee, Pennsylvania cold lose $43 million in local education grants, $33.8 million in Special Ed grants, $20.4 million in Head Start funds, $4.5 million in substance abuse prevention programs, $3.0 million in senior nutrition programs, and much more.

Ann Bale of the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare says the state will try to cope.

“If a fiscal cliff were to happen in the long run, it would make a difficult situation worse, but we’re trying to prepare as best we can.”

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