BOSTON– Senator Cindy F. Friedman (D-Arlington) recently joined several of her legislative colleagues in calling on Governor Charlie Baker to assist state residents at risk of getting the cold shoulder from a federal funding shortfall in the low-income heating assistance program known as the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which serves 160,000 households in the state.
More than 70 House and Senate members requested a $30 million appropriation meant to shore up shortages in heating fuel access. Most of the nearly 48,000 supported oil heat households in the Commonwealth have exhausted their fuel assistance benefit or will have exhausted it by the end of January, leaving them in a perilous position for the rest of the winter.
“We are in the midst of some of the coldest months that residents experience in New England,” said Senator Friedman. “Without proper heating assistance, the health and safety of some of our most vulnerable neighbors will be at risk. We must act quickly to ensure that our residents are able to stay warm in their homes, especially while heating assistance is significantly reduced due to the federal government shutdown.”
The LIHEAP provides eligible households with help in paying a portion of winter heating bills. Eligibility, based on household size and the annual income of every adult household member, provides assistance for electric and gas utility bills and other heat sources including oil and propane. Lawmakers have connected with the Massachusetts Association for Community Action (MASSCAP), Massachusetts AARP, and the leaders of dozens of non-profit human service and advocacy organizations across the state to respond to the growing need.
“Prolonged bitterly cold weather and rising heating oil prices have combined to make staying warm this winter a nightmare for tens of thousands of vulnerable households who heat with oil,” said MASSCAP’s Executive Director Joe Diamond. “Particularly at risk are children, seniors, and veterans across the Commonwealth. This is all made worse by the fact that Massachusetts is faced with a cut of $11 million in its federal fuel assistance allocation this year.”
The fuel assistance program administered by the state Department of Housing and Community Development and carried out by community action agencies and other community groups has had an increase in applicants of over 20 percent from last year.
The lawmakers, hopeful for a swift resolution, note that there has been significant cooperation between the branches over the past three decades in responding to limited federal funding and extreme winter weather conditions.
Senator Friedman represents the 4th Middlesex district, which includes Arlington, Billerica, Burlington, Woburn, and precincts 1-2 and 4-7 in Lexington.