WASHINGTON – President Obama wants to cut $2.5 billion from a $5 billion home heating aid program for the poor, a person familiar with his 2012 budget proposal said Wednesday.

The proposal would cut the popular Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program to its 2008 level of about $2.5 billion. Maine is expected to receive $51.7 million in LIHEAP funds this winter.

The person discussed the details on condition of anonymity because Obama’s spending outline has not been formally released. The White House plans to send the proposal, for the budget year beginning Oct. 1, to Congress on Monday.

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., urged Obama not to cut the funding. He said more than 3 million families would lose assistance.

“I’ve always supported serious efforts to restore fiscal sanity, but in the middle of a brutal, even historic, New England winter, home heating assistance is more critical than ever to the health and welfare of millions of Americans, especially senior citizens,” Kerry said.

Obama has said tough choices must be made about how to spend scarce federal dollars to rein in spending and reduce the budget deficit and the nation’s mounting debt.

The association of state officials who administer the heating program says the number of households needing help paying energy bills is expected to hit a record high this winter for the third straight year.

The National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association says the number is expected to climb to 8.9 million households, up from 8.3 million last year and 7.7 million the year before. The association blames the increases on the weak economy and continued high energy prices, and it opposes any program cuts.

Separately on Wednesday, House Republicans outlined a plan for $35 billion in immediate spending cuts that would practically eliminate LIHEAP’s contingency fund. Republicans would cut $400 million from the $490 million fund.