Governor Patrick and legislative leaders hailed President Bush’s approval of $5.1 billion in funding for the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). Massachusetts will now receive $163 million – nearly $50 million more than last year – to help people pay their heating bills this winter. The package also includes $13 million in weatherization funds so that Massachusetts families can permanently reduce their heating and energy costs.
«This funding could not come at a more crucial time for Massachusetts residents,» said Governor Patrick, who testified in support of the funding before the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming last Thursday. «I applaud the President and the Congress for recognizing the urgent need to provide relief to people from high winter heating costs, and I thank Chairman Markey and all our delegation for their advocacy.»
Combined with state and federal funds leftover from last year and recently released for use this winter, total fuel assistance for Massachusetts residents will increase from $129 million to $184 million. The average benefit will rise from $738 to $925 – enough to pay for seven to eight weeks of heat, despite the rise in fuel prices.
«This is the highest level of funding we have ever seen for the federal fuel assistance program, and that’s great news for the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable citizens,» Senate President Therese Murray said. «The Administration deserves a great deal of credit for advocating and receiving this money to help low-income residents get through the cold months ahead. The addition of these funds, along with sound conservation practices, will go a long way toward reducing the burden of record-high energy costs.»
Congress also responded to calls from the Governor and members of the delegation for additional low income weatherization funding by doubling Massachusetts’ appropriation to $13 million. These weatherization funds will enable 4,000 low-income families to permanently reduce their heating bills by $900 on average and overall energy bills by 25 percent per year.
«In this economic climate, some lower – and even middle-income Massachusetts families simply can’t keep up with increased costs and the looming heating crisis could push families on the brink over the edge,» said Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi. «Working with our partners in the Senate and the Patrick administration, we are taking proactive steps to address the very real fears about the coming winter heating season. I am pleased that the federal government has realized its obligation to help our citizens and hope that we can count on more aid if it is needed.»
Also today the state’s Department of Public Utilities approved utility companies’ plans to expand energy efficiency programs by $5.9 million, allowing them to serve up to 8,000 more electric and gas customers across Massachusetts. Customers who participate in programs could save up to $40 on their monthly utility bills. Consistent with the Green Communities Act, which was signed into law by Governor Patrick in July, the DPU required all Massachusetts natural gas and electric utilities to submit proposals detailing plans to increase spending for residential energy efficiency programs during the 2008 heating season.