The Mountain Times

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Gov. Shumlin, advocates and lawmakers call for additional funding for LIHEAP

On Tuesday, Oct. 23, Gov. Peter Shumlin, joined by key lawmakers and advocates, called for adding $8.8 million in state funds to the fuel assistance program known as LIHEAP to help low-income families stay warm and safe this winter. Over 28,000 low-income Vermont families rely on fuel assistance to help pay a portion of their winter heating bills.

In addition, the Governor announced that his administration has changed the way benefits will be issued to clients and their fuel suppliers. In the past, benefits were paid once a month for everyone who was eligible. Under a new payment system, as families become eligible for assistance, their benefits will be paid each night, eliminating what was a one or two month wait to for heating help.

"I have been clear that Vermonters don't have the financial capacity to pick up all federal cuts, but ensuring vulnerable Vermonters do not freeze in their homes is a priority we can all embrace," said Gov. Shumlin. "I wish we could do more, but we are willing to do some heavy lifting to provide an average benefit level as last winter and that costs $8.8 million more than the federal dollars will support."

Demand for the heating assistance continues to climb in Vermont. Last year about 27,100 Vermonters were eligible, 1,400 fewer than this winter. The Governor said the average benefit, with the increased funding, will hold at last year's $900. Without the state support, that same benefit could fall to $540, a decrease of 40 percent.

The Governor will meet with the Legislature's Emergency Board this week to ask for approval for the additional funds. Several members of that board were present at today's announcement, which was held at the Central Vermont Office of Economic Opportunity, and the full panel is expected to approve the request at its Oct. 30 meeting in Montpelier.

The first round of heating benefits is on schedule to be issued on Wednesday, Nov. 14 to over 21,000 families. The following day, the addition of $8.8 million in state funds will account for over 40 percent of that fuel assistance payout of $20.9 million.

To be eligible for seasonal fuel assistance, a family of three can have up to $2,944 per month gross income. Just over 80 percent of clients heat with oil, propane or kerosene, and almost all benefits to those heating sources. Fuel prices are expected to be 10 cents to 13 cents more per gallon this year than last year, or about $3.73 on average. The average Vermonter uses about 764 gallons per year, costing over $2,800. The state's Fuel Office is working on agreements with fuel dealers to try to lower costs.