With temperatures in the South End expected to dip into the 20s at night this week and not exceed 50 degrees for the next few days many residents and seniors will find it hard to pay their heating bill this winter.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused even more uncertainty in the neighborhood as job loss, food insecurity and loss of income has become more prevalent in recent months.
However, there’s relief from paying those high New England heating costs for hundreds of low-income residents in the neighborhood.
At the beginning of November, Action for Boston Community Development (ABCD) kicked off the annual Fuel Assistance Program at ABCD’s South End office at 554 Columbus Ave. and workers say that the program is in full swing and are encouraging residents to sign up.
ABCD administers the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) for income-eligible residents in Boston, Brookline, Newton and seven communities north of Boston. Last year ABCD provided fuel assistance to more than 25,000 households.
According to ABCD President John Drew, this year the need for heating assistance is greater than ever as COVID-19 continues to take a huge toll on low-income neighborhoods and communities of color where long-standing health disparities make residents highly vulnerable to the virus
Drew said escalating unemployment has led to mounting distress as many make the decision to either buy food, heat their home or pay for necessary medications.
Drew said on November 5, the federal Department of Health & Human Services (DHHS) released $3.36 billion to fund LIHEAP nationwide. Massachusetts received $123 million – up about $9 million from last year. Federal CARES Act funding designated for fuel assistance increases the Massachusetts allocation to $150 million.
Right now the maximum fuel assistance benefit is $600 for South End families, with benefits scheduled to be increased soon. Last year the maximum benefit was $1,140.
“We thank our Congressional delegation for their tireless advocacy for fuel assistance and appreciate the work of HHS in getting the funds released as bitter cold descends on America’s northern tier,” said Drew. “With COVID-19 surging and no sign of Congress passing a second sweeping virus relief bill that would keep unemployed workers and small businesses afloat and make it possible for struggling families to survive, the elders and families served by ABCD face a desperate situation.”
ABCD’s Fuel Assistance Program opened for applications on November 1 and takes applications through April 30. There is a wide range of eligibility based on income and number of household members. The elgibiliuty guidelines can be found at https://www.masscap.org/eligibility-requirements-heating-assistance/.
For example, South End families living at or below the federal poverty level of $26,200 for a family of four would receive the maximum fuel assistance benefit of $600. A person living alone at or below the federal poverty level of $12,760 would receive that same benefit.
But those with incomes above poverty level are also eligible.
Drew said years ago the state expanded eligibility levels in order to keep those slightly above poverty from slipping through the cracks. For example, under the current benefit levels, a family of four earning 60 percent of the state’s median income or $75,200 can receive $430 in fuel assistance. A single person earning $39,105 also receives $430.
“Home heating assistance is vital to keeping disadvantaged individuals, elders, and families healthy by preventing hypothermia and subsequent hospitalization,” said Drew. “And it keeps them safe; too many would otherwise opt for dangerous alternatives such as space heaters or ovens.”
ABCD also offers qualifying families a comprehensive range of energy services to keep families warm, safe and healthy including repair and replacement of inoperable or highly inefficient heating systems, utility discounts, weatherization, programs to improve energy conservation, and much more.
ABCD is grateful for any private donations to home heating fuel assistance or the ABCD COVID RELIEF NOW campaign. Donations can stop a family from turning to dangerous heating substitutes, prevent illness, and dramatically improve the quality of life. To donate, please call 617-348-6559, email [email protected] or visit bostonabcd.org/donate.