$30M more in heating aid headed to Maine

Posted Oct. 16, 2008, at 9:48 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Maine will receive another $30 million in federal heating assistance to low-income families, according to the Maine Housing Authority.

That brings the state’s total for fiscal year 2009 to $79.2 million, which will help more than 80,000 households pay their energy bills, state officials say.

U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe announced Thursday that President Bush directed the Department of Health and Human Services to release $5.1 billion nationwide for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

“This is very good news,” Collins said in a statement. “This impending winter will bring a sharp increase in applications for LIHEAP assistance. This funding will go a long way to helping low-income Mainers stay warm this winter.”

The Maine State Housing Authority is getting $49.5 million in base funding and $29.7 million in emergency funding. The latter amount — the fifth-highest among all states — is set aside and may be used in case of an extremely cold winter or an extreme rise in heating oil prices.

“It was essential for the Administration to identify the heating oil burden as a critical and timely priority and to fund the program accordingly,” Snowe said in a press release.

In 2008, Maine received $46 million to help low-income families pay their energy bills.

The new total represents a 72 percent increase from last year.

“We are delighted,” said Dale McCormick, director of the Maine Housing Authority. “It is going to allow us to keep the benefits of last year and serve about 33,000 more households.”

Even though there is a sharp increase in funds, Maine’s eligible families will actually receive a little less assistance because the administration also modified the eligibility requirements to increase the number of eligible recipients.

Previously, to be eligible a family had to earn no more than 170 percent of the poverty level, said McCormick.

Under the new requirements, a family now must earn no more than 230 percent of the poverty level.

Dan Simpson, spokesman for the Maine Housing Authority, said about 50,000 households received an average $779 from the program last year. In 2009, 84,000 families will receive an average of about $722.

“We have more money to get spread over more people so the average benefit is going to stay about the same,” McCormick said. “But we are going to target the money to the neediest households.”

Last year the program assisted 4.5 million low-income families nationally, or only about 15 percent of eligible families.

The House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming said last month that home heating oil prices were expected to reach a record $4.60 a gallon this winter, which would mean a $4,000 average heating bill for families.

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