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Keeping Warm This Winter

Send local opinion pieces and letters to the editor to william.laforme@patch.com.

The following was provided by State Senator Katherine Clark:

The cold weather is officially upon us.  And while winter in our district brings many fun activities, it also brings difficulty for those who struggle to heat their homes. 

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), families will pay more to heat their homes this winter, especially households that use heating oil, with prices forecast to be up 19 percent over last year and higher than any previous winter on record. While nationally only about 6 percent of families depend on heating oil, the Northeast states account for about 80 percent of these households.  So price increases affect Massachusetts families disproportionately.

Each winter, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) provides fuel assistance to low-income families and individuals.  LIHEAP is funded by an annual appropriation made by the United States Congress. These funds are dispersed to low-income residents through local fuel assistance agencies, several of which operate in our district area:

  • Tri-City Community Action Program (Tri-CAP) serves residents of Malden, Melrose, Stoneham and Winchester.  Please call (781) 322-6284.
  • Lynn Economic Opportunity, INC (LEO) serves residents of Lynnfield, Wakefield and others.  Please call (781) 581-7220, ext. 283.
  • Greater Lawrence Community Action Council serves Reading and other towns.  Please call (978) 681-4950.

Last year, the Commonwealth received $132 million in federal funds for this essential program that helped over 250,000 income-eligible Massachusetts residents purchase home heating oil, natural gas, and propane.  The state provided an additional $21 million, totaling $153 million for fuel assistance in 2012. This year Massachusetts anticipates that the Commonwealth will receive $142 million in federal funding.  Without additional state funding, the Commonwealth will be down at least $11 million compared to last year.

Given the increased prices and reduced federal assistance, 47,000 households in Massachusetts have already used their full oil benefit.  In October 2012, Senator Michael Knapik (R-Westfield) and I sent a letter, signed by 82 members of the legislature, to the Ways and Means Committees requesting a supplemental allocation of $20 million in state funding for home heating assistance.  I will continue to push forward to secure this funding. 

Even as we work to provide adequate home heating assistance, we also must continue to increase the energy efficiency of our homes.  I encourage you to learn more by visiting Mass Save at www.masssave.com or the Melrose Energy Commission at www.melroseenergy.org.  The Beebe Memorial Library in Wakefield is offering a seminar this Wednesday, January 9 on energy-retrofitting an older home.  You can learn more at: www.wakefieldlibrary.org.

If you and your family are struggling with heating bills this winter and need more information about available resources, please contact my office at 617-722-1206. Together we will work to ensure that we all have a safe and warm winter.

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