“It’s more important than ever for … a program that can help to give … a little bit of relief.”
As cold weather moves in, agencies are working to make sure Massachusetts residents know how to apply for fuel assistance and weatherization, if they think they might struggle with their heating bills this winter.
Oil and gas prices are going up. The price of natural gas has nearly doubled in the last year.
Mary Knittle, director of energy resources for the Worcester Community Action Council, said the monthly bills for everybody, including many of their low-income clients, are going to be higher. But she said Community Action Agencies and the federal Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) can help.
“Coming out of all the uncertainty and trauma of this pandemic time, it’s more important than ever for every household that could be eligible to participate in a program that can help to give them that health and safety and a little bit of relief,” Knittle asserted.
Knittle noted a family of four can earn more than $78,000 a year and still be eligible. She added Community Action Agencies can help provide LED light bulbs and assist in converting oil-based heating systems to more climate-friendly heat pumps. She pointed out they also can help replace inefficient appliances, although there is a backlog because of supply-chain issues.
Peggy Hegarty-Steck, CEO of Action Inc. in Gloucester, said sometimes when folks are put in the position where they struggle to budget for increased heating costs, they end up using unsafe alternative heat sources, such as improper use of space heaters, kitchen stoves or fireplaces.
“It’s an income- and housing-support program, too,” Hegarty-Steck argued. “Because people have to decide between paying for heat, paying for rent, paying for medicine, and when they can’t afford their heating bill sometimes they’ll forgo groceries or prescriptions or other basic needs.”
She added the majority of the families Community Action agencies serve are families with children and older members who are more vulnerable when they are without heat.
Sen. Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, said the recently signed federal bipartisan infrastructure bill includes about $500 million over the next five years for the federal LIHEAP program. He stressed it appears between $2 million and $3 million will be available each year for Massachusetts.
“Those programs not only have a direct impact on the families that they benefit, but they also have an impact on reducing our carbon release into the environment,” Tarr remarked. “And they have a direct impact on efficiency in the way that we use our resources.”