New England Heating Aid Resources to Help With Winter Costs


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For those who already have a hard time keeping up the heat each winter, it’s about to get more difficult.

This month, of the first 42 Vermont families who resorted to the help of Champlain Valley Economic Opportunities OfficeWARMTH’s annual program, maximized half of their one-time profit for the entire winter in the first week.

The agency says its $ 300 cap for the HEAT program, which has been in place for years to supplement the state’s seasonal and crisis heat assistance, will come close to covering a minimum fuel delivery for the average household this year.

Across the country, home heating costs are expected to skyrocket this winter. The U.S. Energy Information Administration said residential propane users could see their the bills jump up to 54%, fuel oil 43%, natural gas 30% and electric heating 6%.

As a result, New England social service organizations and nonprofits mobilise themselves for what has already proven to be a significant increase in requests for home heating assistance.

“We’ve been very busy since the release of fuel statistics on October 1,” said Travis Poulin, director of Chittenden Community Action, a program of the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity.

Mary Knittle, Director of Energy for Worcester Community Action Council in Massachusetts, said a recent day saw the agency’s phone system “exceed capacity 1,000 times by 2 p.m.”

They already have 8,800 applications in the door for heating aid.

“We hear a lot of people say they’re really scared,” Knittle said.

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In announcing its rate hikes for this winter, Unitil, an electric and natural gas utility company that serves areas of New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Maine, cited a collision as “the lingering effects of the pandemic of COVID-19, a heating fuel crisis in Europe, and crippled natural gas production on the Gulf Coast following Hurricane Ida “as the main culprits. Behind inflation lies a global energy crisis, as the world tries to recover from COVID.

This in turn could lead to crises for individual households, especially those who are coping with a “slim budget,” said Whitney Cassell, coordinator of Vermont WARMTH, who may be overwhelmed by a single unforeseen expense.

Many Americans have long struggled to pay their utility bills

Energy insecurity – the uncertainty of whether you’ll be able to keep the heat and lights on – was already a problem for many Americans, made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Before COVID, one in three American households reported when faced with a challenge pay their energy bills or maintain adequate heating and cooling in their homes.

In a recent opinion piece published by USA TODAY, Diana Hernández, associate professor of sociomedical sciences at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, said her research has shown that energy insecurity is associated with poor sleep quality, mental strain and stress. respiratory diseases.

“To live without sufficient heat is to suffer in private,” wrote Hernández. “Family members wear coats and extra layers of clothing around the house. They are tied to their beds and sofas where blankets and quilts provide warmth at no additional cost. They live in a room in the house for concentrate the heat and contain the costs. Visitors are not welcome. “

Cathy DiPilato, a resident of Worcester, spoke at this year’s Massachusetts launch of the heating aid campaign about his recent contact with energy insecurity. A client of the Worcester Community Action Council, DiPilato said her home was struck by lightning and insurance would not cover the replacement of her oven. She was also unable to get a loan, as pandemic unemployment left her negative on her tax returns.

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“It was getting really cold, three or four days ago I could see my breath inside my house,” DiPilato said. “I really realized how important the heat is because it’s something we all take for granted.”

How does the home heating aid work?

Federal funding has long been allocated to home heating and energy assistance. Households must meet certain criteria and programs generally do not offer more than one benefit per season. Poulin said his organization often finds itself helping families apply for more than one assistance program each winter, depending on what they qualify for and when – like a patchwork of help from various funding sources.

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In 2020, approximately 5.3 million homes nationwide received assistance with heating and cooling costs through the program Home Energy Assistance Program for Low-Income People, a federally funded, state-administered program accessible through local community action agencies.

Knittle said the income requirements are “fairly generous,” noting that a family of four can earn up to $ 78,000 and a single person up to $ 40,000.

“We encourage anyone who could use a little relief to go ahead and file a claim,” she said.

The New England states receive millions of dollars each year for heating assistance. In Maine, nearly 33,000 households received $ 40 million in LIHEAP assistance last year. New Hampshire recently increased benefit amounts for its home fuel assistance program by 60% from last winter for eligible households – after the Biden administration announced the state was receiving more than $ 25 million from LIHEAP funds.

During the winter of 2018-2019, 156,000 Massachusetts households received a LIHEAP benefit.

Find out more about the LIHEAP program: Organizations encourage people to apply for heating assistance this winter

State-by-State LIHEAP funding varies each year. In 2019, Massachusetts found itself having to top up the LIHEAP dollars with $ 30 million appropriate by the state legislature. after losing millions of federal funds from the previous year.

As a result, there is clearly a need, Poulin said, for private and flexible funding for heating assistance, like Vermont’s WARMTH program, to fill gaps left by federal and state dollars.

“People are in trouble”

In Rhode Island, Providence County Community Action Partnership (CAPP) serves more than 9,000 households per year in the city of Providence via LIHEAP.

Diagneris Garcia, director of communications and strategic initiatives, said that while the agency expects an influx of applicants, it does not yet fully know the extent of the need as it is still early in the season.

In fiscal 2022, Rhode Islanders can access seasonal grants of up to $ 820 for gas, $ 1,201 for oil and $ 1,080 for electricity, Garcia said, and for those in need. in addition to help, crisis grants are also available.

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There is already a waiting list for boiler assistance in the city, said Dayanarah Baez, director of energy and housing stability for CAPP. The shortage of manpower adds to “the huge demand,” she said, as they cannot find enough technicians to keep pace with the demands.

“Today it’s cold and a few homes are just waiting for the technician to show up,” Baez said.

Emphasizing that their organization’s mission is to “minimize poverty while guiding people towards self-sufficiency,” Garcia stressed that the crisis in home public services does not happen in a vacuum. Heating aid, she said, while essential, is a “reactionary response”.

“People are in trouble and we are trying to get them out of trouble,” Garcia said. “It’s important to mitigate that, to be more proactive.”

Introduce low-income households into weatherization of the house – so that they can reduce their energy load – is one way to achieve this, she said, “a more holistic approach”.

In some cases, it is a step towards breaking the cyclical nature of poverty.

“In the city of Providence, you see generations coming and asking for help, which is concerning,” added Baez. “We have a grandmother, a mother and now the child with a new baby who is looking for help.”

Winter energy saving tips, Mass Save thermostat

The Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development offers these winter energy saving tips:

  • Caulk and caulk the doors and windows that exhaust air.
  • At home, turn down the heat to 68 ° F or as low as comfortable.
  • When you’re asleep or away from home, turn the thermostat down 7 ° to 10 ° for eight hours and save up to 10% per year on your heating and cooling bills.
  • Consider getting a programmable thermostat.
  • Lower the temperature of your water heater to 120 °.
  • Have your oil heating system serviced every year or your gas heating system every three years.
  • Clean or replace the furnace filters every two months.
  • Keep the flue damper closed unless a fire is burning.
  • Check that air registers, baseboard heaters and radiators are not blocked by furniture or curtains.
  • Close your curtains and blinds at night; open them during the day.

Other ways to reduce your bill: Fall is here, and so is the fight to control your heating bill

Mass backup, a program sponsored by the state’s energy providers, also recently made an effort to help homeowners and tenants lower their heating costs this winter, by selling smart thermostats online that typically sell for between 129 $ and $ 169 for $ 9.99 with free shipping.

Smart thermostats can on average save customers 10-12% on heating costs.

Heating assistance resources in New England

The following agencies administer federal and state dollars for energy assistance:

Massachusetts Energy Assistance Agencies

Rhode Island Energy Aid Agencies

New Hampshire Energy Aid Agencies

Maine Energy Aid Agencies

Vermont Energy Aid Agencies

Connecticut Energy Aid Agencies

Many privately funded fuel assistance programs also exist. Some around the region include:

Worcester Telegram and Gazette reporter Marco Cartolano contributed to this story.


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