Northeast lawmakers want to triple home heat aid

July 17, 2008 8:34:43 AM PDT
House members from the Northeast worried about rising energy prices asked Wednesday to more than triple federal home heating aid this winter. The 21 lawmakers sent a joint letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi asking for as much as $9 billion in heating aid to be included as part of a new economic stimulus bills. They also requested up to $1 billion for weatherization programs to help homeowners conserve energy and save money.

Millions of poor and elderly people on fixed incomes rely on heating assistance through the government's Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program to help pay their bills.

Congress appropriated $2.57 billion for low-income home energy assistance last winter.

Soaring energy costs will make it difficult for millions of families to pay for both heating their homes and buying enough food, the lawmakers warned. With home heating oil prices already over $4 a gallon, many households in New England will be paying upward of $4,000 to heat their homes this winter, the lawmakers said.

"Keeping your home heated in New Hampshire is not a matter of convenience or comfort, but a matter of survival," said Rep. Paul Hodes, D-N.H., in a statement.

More than 6 million New England households rely on oil heat for their homes, the lawmakers wrote. About 40 percent of Massachusetts homes use oil heat. More than 963,000 households in the state use home heating oil which is delivered by more than 800 distributors, many of them small businesses.

"This summer, it's gas prices that are red hot," said Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass.. "But for some New England families this winter, the only heat they might feel is from home heating oil prices."

Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., said families are struggling to keep pace with rising energy prices.

"Our request to triple home heating assistance funding is the right thing to do in what has been a tough year for the middle class," Courtney said.

Cash-strapped families could face tough choices this winter unless fuel aid is boosted, said Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, D-New Hampshire.

"I urge Speaker Pelosi to provide this emergency funding so families do not have to choose between putting food on the table and staying warm," Shea-Porter said.

New England governors have also recently called for a substantial boost in federal heating aid.

Record-high crude oil prices have sent gasoline costs soaring this year. The National Energy Assistance Directors' Association, which represents state-run low income energy assistance programs, has predicted that home heating oil costs will hit record levels this winter.

The group has said the national average cost to heat a home with oil this winter will be $2,593, up from $1,962 last winter. Families in cold-weather Northeast states will be hit even harder.


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