Fuel Assistance Money Requested After Bitter Cold

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The cold snap for the record books broke Monday when temperatures finally climbed above the freezing mark, but low-income homeowners may still be feeling frostbitten.

The prolonged cold and rising home heating oil prices have combined to put added strain on tens of thousands of households, according to the Massachusetts Association for Community Action. The group wrote to Gov. Charlie Baker this week urging him to include $25 million in the next supplemental budget for fiscal 2018 to support the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).

"In what has literally become a matter of life and death for some, we are asking you and Massachusetts legislators to provide $25 million in funding to help low-income households heat their homes so that we can avert a public health and safety crisis," MASSCAP Executive Director Joseph Diamond wrote to Baker on Monday.

At current federal funding levels, Diamond wrote that the fuel assistance benefit, with home heating oil priced at $3 a gallon, will cover the cost of 1.5 tanks of oil when it takes three to four tanks for the average household to get through the winter.

With heating systems running overtime during the recent cold spell, MASSCAP said most of the 40,000 LIHEAP beneficiaries have already exhausted their benefit and all will have used their subsidy by the end of January.

"Now is the time to act, before we see any families experiencing serious harm," Diamond wrote.

The Legislature and governor have supplemented federal fuel assistance funding with state support more than a dozen times over the past three decades, according to MASSCAP, and the total benefit for Massachusetts has declined in recent years from $200 million to $145 million.

Baker could file the next fiscal 2018 supplement budget before the end of the month.