September 2018: LIHEAP News Wrap Up

September LIHEAP NEWS Wrap Up.png

LIHEAP News from Across the Country

Writing and reporting for the Campaign for Home Energy Assistance: Jake Brown

In New York, the Daily Gazette made a prediction for the Capital Region that “...the one thing that is clear as days get shorter and frost advisories start is that heating a home or office is going to be more expensive this winter than last year.” This increase is the result of several factors, including a 4-year high for oil prices.  

In a cover story, the Daily Gazette cited the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority’s report on energy cost comparisons between 2017 and 2018, stating that the “average price of home heating oil in the eight counties in and around the Capital Region was $3.06 per gallon as of Oct. 1, up from $2.54 in the same week a year ago. It’s also up 5 cents from just the week before.  Last winter, the price that would begin at $2.55 per gallon in early October would go on to spike at $3.03 per gallon in late January, though it fell a few cents thereafter. Propane, according to NYSERDA, is priced at $2.96 per gallon this week, up 9 percent from a year ago.”  

New York Junior Senator Kirsten Gillibrand echoed the universal sentiments of past and present colleagues around the region that “no New Yorker should be forced to choose between keeping their homes warm during the winter, or cool during the summer, and paying for their food or rent.  LIHEAP is a lifeline for over 1 million New Yorkers who rely on this critical program to cover their energy bills.”


Mainers were experiencing a similar panic over the spike in prices for heating oil, kerosene and propane, with Lee Hardison, Energy Services Director with Downeast Community Partners (DCP) in Ellsworth describing a perfect storm where “we have such old housing stock, specifically in Washington County.  Because of that, heating costs are much higher, and then just geographically, as you keep going east the heating costs rise.”  Braving the spotlight to underscore just how vital energy assistance is year in and out, Hancock resident and LIHEAP recipient Mary-Jo Halpin, a single mother and 10-year program recipient, spoke first-hand on the difference the assistance makes in keeping her home warm during the long winter months, sharing that “we usually get almost enough for one half tank of fuel.  But the price for fuel keeps going up and up, and unfortunately you don’t know if you’re going to get enough to cover you for the entire winter, and that’s too bad.  It also depends on how cold it is. I keep an electric heater, but I hate to use it because it eats up the electricity bill.  But it’s a great program to help people like us. We wouldn’t be able to survive without it, and it allows me to stay in my home.”


With New England’s famously-frigid winter just around the corner, Attorney General Maura Healey announced that families across Massachusetts facing the upcoming plummet in temperatures in tandem with rising electric bills could count on the Natural Gas Fuel Assistance Grant Program for an extra helping hand.  Noting that “every year, tens of thousands of Massachusetts families struggle to pay their heating bills,” Attorney General Healey explained of as a result of a settlement with the National Grid for overcharging customers on reconnection fees, “my goal with this new program is to make sure our residents have the financial assistance they need to stay warm during the cold winter months.” 


Running from 2018 through 2020, Charlie Harak, a managing attorney at the National Consumer Law Center agreed that the program was a necessary addition to the layers of shelter the state tries to quilt its most vulnerable residents with each winter, confirming to the Framingham Source newspaper that “utility companies terminate gas service to large numbers of low income households each year because those customers cannot afford to pay their bills.  The Attorney General’s program will help thousands of households to stay current on their bills and avoid termination.”


Speaking more broadly to why such supplemental programs are essential to aiding distressed communities with affording their utility bills, highlighted “roughly a quarter of U.S. households qualify for federal energy assistance. This is not a small segment. Low-income customers, on average, spend over 7 percent of their household income on energy, compared with only 2 percent for households with median income. This contributes to pressure at utilities and the public commissions that regulate them to make electric bills affordable.  And beyond efforts to keep costs down across the board, utilities’ main tool to lower bills has been to offer discount programs to LMI customers funded through surcharges on other customers’ bills. The federal government provides its own bill assistance through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). Much smaller funding streams have been directed toward energy efficiency targeted to LMI customers. These bill assistance programs provide a valuable service and are not going away anytime soon.”