Heat aid gone, cold nights for Mass

BOSTON (WWP) — On March 31st, utility companies will no longer be legally prohibited from shutting off power or fuel service to households that can't afford it.  Even though it’s Spring, community groups in western Massachusetts are concerned by the effect that high fuel prices and a long winter will have on low income households.

“Although it’s warm today, you know it’s still cool in most of the apartments, many people don’t have fuel,” said Paul Bailey, executive director at Springfield Partners for Community Action.  “It would be helpful to everyone if we could get through April.

Over the years, federal low income heat assistance has been cut almost in half to $132 million dollars a year.  Since January, community organizers have been asking lawmakers to approve $20 million dollars in additional funding to help about 200,000 Massachusetts households that rely on fuel assistance.

“Unfortunately, the well has basically become dry so we tell clients to contact their utility companies, try to get on some kind of arrearage management program, budget programs,” said Citizens for Citizens assistant director Elizabeth Berube.

Governor Deval Patrick’s 2014 state budget does not include $20 million dollars in additional heating aid.  But the Patrick administration says it includes “forward funding” that authorizes community groups to make fuel assistance payments to low income households and get reimbursed by the federal government at a later date.

“So essentially the state would advance funding and then get reimbursed so that is in his budget and we hope the Legislature will adopt that,” said Housing and Community Development Undersecretary Aaron Gornstein.

Low income households that are approved for fuel assistance are given one tank of oil, but community groups say most households need three to four tanks per winter.



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