Calls for Immediate Release of Funds at Last Year’s $5.1 Billion Level
Programs, Heating Vendors, in Limbo as Nov. 1 Fuel Assistance Start Date Approaches
Fuel Assistance program managers at Action for Boston Community Development (ABCD) and fuel programs across Massachusetts are a week away from the program’s November 1 opening date with no funding commitment from Washington, D.C.
“We have 14,000 fuel assistance applications in-house,” said ABCD President/CEO John J. Drew. “But we can’t designate benefits to these families because there is no funding commitment from Washington. The whole program is in limbo.”
Drew called on the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services to immediately release full fuel assistance funding of $192 million for Massachusetts at the $5.1 billion national level that was provided last year. “With home heating oil prices up eight percent and other heating fuel prices also increased, and with poverty and unemployment in America at record highs, the LIHEAP program must be fully funded with immediate release of funds so that oil trucks can roll with deliveries to people who desperately need this assistance to survive the cold Northern winters,” he said.
Drew emphasized the importance of releasing the full 2011-2012 allocation immediately, not in piecemeal amounts over the course of the winter.
Every year the federal Low-income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) provides a lifeline for seniors and working poor families who struggle to heat their homes through the bitter Northeast winter and still purchase food, medicine and other essentials in an economy that has hit them hard from every side. Last year ABCD served 22,000 households, up from 17,000 in previous years. Across Massachusetts, 250,000 households received fuel assistance. This year programs anticipate a 10 percent increase in applications.
Drew thanked Senators Kerry and Brown and Congressman Markey for their advocacy for immediate, full LIHEAP funding, as well as a host of other Senators and Congressmen across the nation for their intensive efforts to bring this critical issue to the attention of the administration.
In an October 13 letter to President Obama urging release of the full $5.1 billion in fuel funding, Senator John Kerry said: “Those who need assistance from LIHEAP the most are often our ‘Greatest Generation seniors’ who have contributed to our country all their lives and now live on fixed incomes, in addition to low-income working families struggling to pay rent and keep their heads above water in a difficult economy.”
Administration’s failure to act cripples program
Because HHS has not established the 2011-2012 funding level and released fuel assistance funds to the states, ABCD and other Massachusetts fuel programs and client-families are encountering a domino-effect series of problems just a week before the program’s official start:
• There is no contract with the state agency that dispenses the funding;
• No benefit levels for client-families have been established;
• Oil dealers cannot plan deliveries for the program’s official November 1 start, deliveries desperately needed by tens of thousands of families who qualify for the program;
• Fuel assistance advocates do not have the client benefit information they need to work with utility companies to get families who have had their gas and/or electric shut off turned back on before the November 15 winter “moratorium” on shut offs. If utilities are not turned on by that date, families will go into the winter without heat or electricity.
Last year’s full funding provided a top benefit of $1,050 in Massachusetts. At this year’s oil prices that will provide only about one tank of oil. Most households require 4-5 tanks to get through the winter.
Cold a “natural disaster”
Drew called the winter cold of the Northern states a “natural disaster” equal to the hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and forest fires” that hit other parts of America. He called on the federal government to ensure that people at risk are protected from it.
The very young and old are particularly susceptible to hypothermia where the body loses the ability to regulate its temperature with often deadly results. In addition, families at risk for cold may resort to unsafe heating methods such as space heaters or stoves. Every year families across America die in house fires from such use.
A cost-effective program
Fuel Assistance helps to keep at-risk families on their feet, working, going to school, staying out of emergency rooms. Families in “no-heat” situations may end up leaving their homes and turning to the state’s over-extended shelter system, where they could be placed in hotels and motels at great cost to taxpayers. Children who are cold and hungry cannot do homework effectively and may do poorly in school, at great cost to their futures. Seniors and others may end up in costly emergency rooms due to hypothermia or other cold-related illnesses.
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