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Even if you follow the “no heat until Thanksgiving” rule, the last two weeks of frigid nights likely pushed — or at least tempted — you to turn that heat dial.
We know an earlier start to the heating season doesn’t do your wallet any favors. So, if you’re dreading costly bills from energy providers like National Grid and Eversource, know you don’t have to go it alone. In fact, you might be eligible for help, which could be particularly useful this winter, as climate scientists predict Massachusetts may face a “Snowmageddon.” (You really can’t skimp on heat when you’ve got to weather a literal storm.)
I spoke with Sharon Scott-Chandler, CEO and president of Action for Boston Community Development (ABCD), which facilitates the state’s heating assistance program, LIHEAP. We spoke about everything from getting help heating your home this winter, to tips on how to lock in the warmth.
Hanna Ali: What are some misconceptions people have about receiving heating assistance through LIHEAP?
Sharon Scott-Chandler: I think that one of the primary misconceptions is that the program is only for those who have the lowest income, and those are the only people who qualify for benefits. The fact is LIHEAP income limits are higher than many people think. For a family of 3, the limit is [around] $73,000, which is higher than you’d expect. You can be a 2-person household and make $59,000 and qualify. Some people think that just because heat is included in their rent, they can’t apply. Or if they’re in subsidized housing, they can’t apply. But everyone who has to pay for their heating cost one way or another can and should find out if they’re eligible.
People also think, ‘If I get it, I’m taking benefits away from someone who needs it more.’ That is not the case. They’re not taking anything away from a neighbor that has less than them. The way the state’s system is set up, [it] can provide benefits to everyone that is eligible. Everyone should look to see if they qualify.
HA: How many people have applied for assistance this year?
SSC: LIHEAP applications opened up last week, on Nov. 1. We’ve already received over 12,000 applications to date [as of Nov. 8]. And last year, we served almost 30,000 people.
People should apply sooner rather than later. Not because the money will run out, but depending on what documentation you need, like proof of income, there’s a process and it can take a little time to get done. You want to apply sooner, so you can get your benefit as soon as possible. Don’t wait until it’s 10 degrees below — do it now.
HA: When do LIHEAP applications close?
SSC: April 30, 2024.
HA: Do you have any tips for energy and heat preservation in older, drafty homes like the ones we have in Boston?
SSC: Well, I often say there’s what you can do right now, and what you can do later.
Right now, seal any holes or cracks around the windows with caulk or weather stripping. You can even put duct tape around your windows, which seems old school, but it works. Drapes, bedding and shower curtains over windows and doors can work to keep the cold out.
In the long run, you should have your heating systems — whether they’re gas or oil — tuned up on a regular basis. Have hot water faucets repaired if they’re leaking and reduce the temperature on your hot water heater, too, to preserve energy.
One of the benefits of being a [heating] assistance client is also that ABCD will help you with heating system repair, similar to MassSave. So, insulation, new thermostats, air sealing, heating system repairs and even installing new furnaces — we’ll do it for free.
P.S. — Longtime New Englanders, how do you prep your home for the winter? And what tips would you give someone braving their first winter in Massachusetts? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we may round up the answers in a future newsletter.