Fuel Assistance Buys Less This Year
Massachusetts residents who receive government assistance paying their heating bills will get more money this year. But that doesn't mean their bills will be lower than last year's.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services awarded the state 141-million dollars through its Low Income Heating Assistance Program. That's about 6-percent more than last year. Gail Pisacane heads the energy program for the Valley Opportunity Council -- one agency distributing federal funds to residents of Western Massachusetts. She says although families will receive a little more help with their heating bills, the money won't go as far as it might have in the past
."This is proving to be one of the most expensive years we've seen. The cost of oil just keeps going up and up. And that is our primary heating source for probably a third of the people who come into our program."
Pisacane says customers using what she calls "delivered fuels" -- like oil, kerosene, propane gas or wood pellets -- will receive more assistance than those who pay utility companies. That's because the delivered fuels are much pricier. And -- she says -- by Massachusetts law, utility companies can't hit the off-switch from November through March, even for residents who can't pay their bills.
But Pisacane says it's important to remember that protection isn't universal.
"If you heat with a delivered fuel, if you don't pay it, you don't get it. And if you get shut off, you get shut off. And we know of many many people who cut back on food or cut back on medication -- especially the elderly -- so that they can pay their heating bill."
Residents can apply for the program at any of 22 fuel assistance agencies across the bay state. The program ends April 30th.