Governor Patrick Testifies in Support of Additional Federal Fuel Assistance
High fuel oil prices make funding critical
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Thursday, September 25, 2008 - Governor Deval Patrick testified today before Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming on the need for additional federal fuel assistance funding in order to avoid a potential public health crisis this winter.
Noting that advocates for low-income families and individuals have called the coming winter of high heating fuel costs a "slow motion Katrina," Governor Patrick applauded members of the committee for supporting a $5.1 billion allocation for the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) that passed yesterday in the House of Representatives.
"Massachusetts is doing everything we can to avoid disaster this winter. Without help, many of our most vulnerable citizens will find themselves facing heating bills they cannot pay," said Governor Patrick. "I thank you again for the House action yesterday and I urgently ask the full Congress to fully fund the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program at the $5.1 billion level now under consideration as part of the Continuing Resolution. This funding would almost double this winter's expected LIHEAP benefit in Massachusetts, providing enormous help to families across the Commonwealth."
The average price of home heating oil in Massachusetts hit a record high of $4.71 a gallon in July, after steadily rising, week by week, for over a year. Since then, prices of heating fuels have moderated somewhat since, settling in at roughly $4 a gallon - but still 50 percent higher than last year, when the average price was $2.70. Almost 40 percent of Massachusetts households use fuel oil to heat their homes. In Maine, 80 percent of households rely on oil heat.
At $4 a gallon, it would take more than $3,200 to heat an average Massachusetts household with oil this winter, up from $1,800 just two winters ago. And many consider that average fuel usage to be conservative, Governor Patrick noted. If a family uses 1,100 gallons next winter, which is not unusual, it would cost them more than $4,000 to heat their home.
In his testimony, Governor Patrick outlined the many steps Massachusetts has taken already to prepare for a cold, expensive winter. In July, Governor Patrick partnered with House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi and Senate President Therese Murray to launch a joint task force to address winter energy costs. The task force held public hearings in Springfield, Fall River, Haverhill, Worcester and Boston and is expected to report its findings and recommendations shortly.
The state's Department of Public Utilities recently ordered an increase in the discount given to low-income customers on their electric and natural gas bills, which will save them $75 to $300 over the coming winter, and expanded programs to help low-income customers pay past due bills. The state is also working to expand energy efficiency services provided by the utilities this fall, in time to help their customers tighten and insulate their homes, as well as upgrade their heating systems, with the help of rebates and low-interest loans.
Still, Governor Patrick has consistently identified federal fuel assistance funding as the key to helping low-income households survive the coming winter, and worked with the governors of neighboring states to promote this cause in Washington, D.C.
Following a meeting of the New England Governors Conference hosted by Governor Patrick this summer, all six New England governors signed a letter calling on the federal government to increase LIHEAP funds for the New England region. Earlier this month, the New England Governors held a summit in Bar Harbor, Maine, and put forth a resolution urging Congress to fully fund LIHEAP for 2008 with an additional $2.5 billion.
Last year, the Commonwealth received $115 million in federal LIHEAP funding in addition to $15 million in state funding to help to assist approximately 141,000 low-income Massachusetts residents heat their homes last winter, which allowed for an average benefit of $738. Level funding of the basic LIHEAP block grant of $81.8 million, which is all that could be counted on without immediate action, would reduce benefits to $553 - not enough to purchase a full tank of heating oil at today's prices.
The funding of $5.1 billion passed by the House would give Massachusetts $163 million in federal fuel assistance. Adding to that $11.5 million in leftover FY08 funds released last week and $10 million in state funds set would bring total fuel assistance funding to $184.6 million, and increase benefits to an average of $925.