WASHINGTON — Home heating aid advocates urged President Barack Obama on Wednesday to release at least $100 million in emergency money to help poor families struggling to pay higher heating bills and keep enough oil in their tanks after a harsh winter.
The Northeast has been particularly hard hit by cold weather and rising oil prices, the National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association said. In a letter to Obama, the group said many families are feeling the pinch because the price of home heating oil increased from $3.12 per gallon at the beginning of the winter to $3.89 last week.
“It’s been an extraordinarily hard winter, and with prices so high, these families are having a very hard time,” said Mark Wolfe of NEADA, the association of state officials who administer the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which provides heating and cooling subsidies for the poor.
Even so, the request comes as record federal deficits have intensified pressure on both parties to find budget cuts, making it harder than usual for the White House and lawmakers to bless additional spending.
With its cold winters and heavy reliance on costly oil heat, the Northeast is particularly vulnerable to rising energy costs. Many poor and elderly people struggle to pay heating bills that can run into thousands of dollars, Wolfe said.
Wolfe said the average cost of heating a home in New England with oil is about $2,983 this winter, nearly $650 more than last year. High unemployment and colder-than-average winter temperatures have worsened the problem.
Lawmakers and home heating aid advocates from cold-weather states have warned that without additional money, many poor people could face dire decisions about cutting back on other essentials such as clothing or food to pay heating bills.
Congress has appropriated $590 million in emergency heating aid funds for the current fiscal year which ends Sept. 30. In January, the Obama administration gave out $200 million of the emergency money.
LIHEAP is expected to help a record 8.9 million households for the current fiscal year, Wolfe said.