Heating aid slashed for 1,000

January 20, 2012
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More than 1,000 Jamaica Plain households could be in the cold this winter due to deep cuts in federal heating bill aid.

The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program is providing Massachusetts with $132 million in aid—a cut of $52 million from last year. A push is under way for the state to provide at least $30 million to plug the gap.

Heating oil assistance has been capped at $675—a 35 percent drop from last year. That amount will fill two-thirds of the average oil tank, advocates say—when households usually need two to three tanks a winter.

The cuts are forcing some seniors into making a “heat or eat” financial decision, according to Dale Mitchell, executive director of the JP-based service agency Ethos.

“People are exhausting the benefits,” said Kathy Tobin, energy programs director at ABCD, an organization that administers the aid in Boston.

Congressman Mike Capuano, who represents most of JP, criticized the aid-slashing in an email to the Gazette.

“All year, Washington has argued over how to reduce federal spending, but these cuts will negatively low-income households and force them to shoulder a greater burden,” Capuano said. “It’s the wrong approach and I will keep fighting for this program.”

In Massachusetts, households with incomes within 200 percent of the federal poverty line—about $45,000 a year for a family of four—are eligible for fuel aid.

The current federal budget slashed the aid by $3 billion to $1.7 billion, Tobin said. Congress authorized some supplement funding, but not nearly enough, and not all of it has been released, Tobin said, calling the cuts “unconscionable.” There is no other standard heating aid available.

More than 1,000 JP households are affected, and applications are still coming in, Tobin said. Besides direct health dangers, the lack of heating bill help can lead people to use unsafe heating sources and to skip spending money on food or other necessities, Tobin and Mitchell said.

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