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
"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
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.