McGovern seeks more fuel assistance funding

  • Congressman Jim McGovern

@BeraDunau
Published: 1/5/2018 9:35:05 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Congressman Jim McGovern wants more money to be available for fuel assistance — indeed, he believes the issue is a matter of life and death.

“The important thing is to make sure nobody freezes to death in the winter,” said McGovern, D-Worcester.

Along with every other member of Massachusetts’ congressional delegation, McGovern signed a letter to Eric Hargan, the acting secretary and deputy secretary at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, asking that the remaining 10 percent of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program funds for this fiscal year be released.

The letter notes that LIHEAP is vitally important to the elderly, children and the disabled. It also notes that the Department of Energy has estimated that people heating with fuel oil in the Northeast will have to pay 21 percent more this winter over last, an increase being driven by lower temperatures and higher fuel prices.

Those using natural gas and propane were estimated to pay 10 percent more, while those heating with electricity were estimated to pay almost 3.5 percent more.

LIHEAP provides heating assistance to low-income households, and Greenfield-based nonprofit Community Action is one of 22 organizations throughout the state that administer the program. Community Action covers Hampshire and Franklin counties.

Peter Wingate, the energy director at Community Action, said that LIHEAP is not designed to pay a person’s entire winter heating bill. Rather, he said that it pays for 30 percent of a typical household’s bill, and that folks who use it don’t choose to heat their homes more than normal, which he says is a misconception some have.

“In our experience that’s not the case,” he said.

Should the remaining LIHEAP funds be released, Wingate said that it would mean that households in need would be able to receive an additional shipment of fuel oil.

Wingate said that some people have already used their fuel assistance benefit for this winter. He also said that recent low temperatures are lower than area houses and heating systems are designed to handle.

LIHEAP was funded at $3.4 billion for this fiscal year. McGovern doesn’t believe this will be enough to meet the need. As such, if winter temperatures continue as expected, he will seek a supplemental appropriation for the program.

“We would be thrilled if that was a possibility,” Wingate said.

The maximum benefit under LIHEAP for deliverable fuel is $1,400, which is given to households at or below the federal poverty level. For a household of four that is $24,600 a year.

Households at 60 percent of the estimated state median income can also receive some amount of LIHEAP in Massachusetts. For a household of four that is $66,115, and carries a benefit of $881 for deliverable fuel.

For those who have already used up their benefit and are still in need, Community Action is raising money for its Heat Up! campaign, which can use this privately raised money to assist such households.

Wingate also compliments oil dealers for their work in getting fuel delivered.

“Hats off to all of them,” he said.

McGovern said that he hopes that there wouldn’t be a fight over the release of the remaining LIHEAP funds.

“I hope they will see things our way,” he said. “This weather is life-threatening.”

Those who want to apply for LIHEAP in Hampshire and Franklin counties can contact Community Action at 413-774-2310.

“We are actively seeking people,” Wingate said.

More information on fuel assistance can be found at www.communityaction.us/fuel-assistance.html.




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