FALL RIVER – Marie says a locally administered federal fuel assistance program by the nonprofit Citizens for Citizens has been invaluable to her since she first applied and qualified five years ago.
“Without this program, I don’t know where I would be,” she said. “I would probably end up in a shelter. “
Marie, who has requested that her full name not be used, lives in Fall River and is one of more than 13,000 households in a dozen regional towns and villages – from Seekonk to Lakeville – that Citizens for Citizens has helped use the Federal Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP for short.
The LIHEAP program – which helps low-income homeowners and renters pay their heating bills during the colder months of the year – is part of the United States’ health and social services.
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How LIHEAP works
LIHEAP was established in 1981 and is funded annually by the federal government. Individual states often increase the federal allocation when they deem it necessary.
“It’s a life and death program,” said Elizabeth Berube, executive director of Citizens for Citizens, who started volunteering at Fall River Agency 45 years ago as a teenager.
Berube works with utility companies, including Liberty Utilities, National Grid and Eversource Energy, to administer the LIHEAP heating bill program, which in Massachusetts runs from November 1 to April 30.
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An applicant – whether a person who owns a house or, like Marie, a recipient of Section 8 housing vouchers – is eligible if their income does not exceed 60% of the median income. estimated state.
In the example of a four-person household, the combined gross income threshold is currently $ 78,751. For a one-person household, one can have an income of up to $ 40,951 and still qualify.
Berube says more people should take advantage of the government’s largesse.
“It’s shocking how liberal the guidelines are,” she said, adding that “most people don’t consider themselves to be low income.”
Berube says LIHEAP covers heating sources including, but not limited to, petroleum, natural gas, propane, electricity, kerosene, wood and wood pellets.
She says she works with more than 40 suppliers to deliver a variety of fuels, with natural gas accounting for 50-60% of deliveries, fuel oil about 30% and electricity just over 10%.
Berube said she was worried about rising home heating prices and the possibility of a freezing winter that would create even more demand.
Heating fuel statistics
The US Energy Information Administration predicted last month that US households, on average, this winter will spend 30 percent more on natural gas; 43 percent more for heating oil; 6% more for electric heating; and 54 percent more for propane.
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He said his forecast was based on the rise in retail energy prices following “changes in energy supply and demand patterns in response to the COVID-19 pandemic” as well as the ‘expectation of a slightly colder winter in the United States compared to a year ago.
The price of heating oil, which is determined by the price of crude oil, has been on the rise since early October when, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the price per gallon was $ 3.10.
As of Nov. 8, the price had risen to $ 3.35 per gallon, the EIA said. Online business data platform Statista has predicted that the price of a gallon of heating oil will hit $ 3.39 this winter.
Local heating oil supplier
Anthony Santoro, whose family business Santoro Oil of Providence in 2020 bought Wilkinson Fuels and Propane in Somerset, said it was impossible at one point to predict how futures would trade on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
“It’s a shitty shoot,” he said.
Santoro, who acts as regional manager for the Wilkinson division of Santoro, which serves 2,000 accounts in Southeast Massachusetts and the East Bay area of Rhode Island, said his company now has a sufficient supply of heating oil.
But he cautions that “weather dictates” how much supply will be available during the winter. Santoro also said propane supply levels are at their lowest in five years, in part due to increased export sales to Asia.
Santoro says propane sales represent a third of sales within the 10 mile radius of the Wilkinson area.
A grateful recipient
Marie said Citizens for Citizens made sure last year that she received just over $ 500 from the LIHEAP program to cover her natural gas heating bill.
She says she has lived alone in her second floor apartment for 36 years and has been receiving Social Security disability benefits since 2010.
“I’ve been a worker and volunteer since I was 14,” she says. “It took my doctor 13 years to apply for disability.
Marie said she had had at least 35 orthopedic surgeries since being an active athlete in high school and had constant pain from recent cervical spine surgery.
She encourages others eligible for LIHEAP, especially families with children, to contact Citizens for Citizens, who she says has also provided her with a new refrigerator as part of their Appliance Stewardship program.
The Good Neighbor Energy Fund fills a gap
David L. Hughes of public relations firm Dodge Associates also sits on the committee that manages the Canton-based Massachusetts Good Neighbor Energy Fund.
The fund, which is administered by the Salvation Army, picks up where Citizens for Citizens and LIHEAP left off, providing fuel assistance to households with gross incomes between 60 and 80% of the median income level of the state.
“A lot of people are surprised when they realize ‘Oh, I fit that standard,’ said Hughes.
He said 19 energy companies sponsor the fund. Hughes also said green donation envelopes mailed with fuel bills continue to generate private donations.
“And we receive donations and letters from people who themselves had already received fuel assistance,” said Hughes.
Charles Winokoor can be contacted at [email protected] Support local journalism and subscribe to The Herald News today.