More help from federal government means more heating-fuel aid for NH

Posted Dec. 23, 2011, at 10:09 p.m.

NASHUA, N.H. — Hundreds or even thousands of families throughout southeastern New Hampshire who thought they would be denied help buying heating fuel will get assistant after all as a result of an increase in federal funding.

New Hampshire officials learned this week that the state would receive about $11 million more to provide heating-fuel aid than was previously thought, raising the total to about $26 million.

The extra money means that fuel aid, which totals from $150-$1,150 during the winter depending on a family’s income, is available for families or individuals who make as much as twice the federal poverty level. This annual income cut-off ranges from $21,780 for one person to $75,260 for an eight-person household.

As of last week, the state thought there was only enough money to provide help for families making two-thirds that amount, or 125 percent of the poverty level.

Southern New Hampshire Services, a community-action agency for Hillsborough and Rockingham counties, has 8,044 families enrolled in the program with applications for another 5,000 in the pipeline, said Louise Bergeron, director of energy for the agency.

She wasn’t certain how many of these wouldn’t have been helped under the lower assistance level, but said it was significant.

“This is a big deal,” she said. “The people who are now included got letters early saying they would get a benefit … but they would often miss the part saying this benefit is projected, based on funding. Many people had planned on that money, and until this Monday, they weren’t going to get it.”

In the Nashua area, applicants can call 1-877-211-0723 or 889-3440 for more information.

The new level of funding for what’s known as the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, is about $9 million less than last year’s total for New Hampshire. This means the state won’t be able to help people who make more than twice the federal poverty level, as it did in the past, aiding families making up to 60 percent of the state’s median income.

The money can go for any fuel used as the main heating source, whether heating oil, propane, natural gas, wood pellets or cordwood. It’s paid directly to the providers after the fuel is delivered, Bergeron said.

The extra money for New Hampshire is part of more than $845 million in funding that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released to states because Congress passed a full-year spending bill including almost $3.5 billion for LIHEAP, which supplements the $1.7 billion released to states since October, according to the office of U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen.

Shaheen urged more funding for LIHEAP when she spoke on the Senate floor earlier this month.

The warm winter has lessened the need for heating so far, but that’s balanced in part by high fuel prices.

“Some benefits don’t even give a minimum delivery at the cost that we have now,” Bergeron said.

“These continue to be challenging times for many families due to the unstable economy coupled with high fuel oil prices, and the additional funding was very much needed,” said Joanne Morin, director of the state Office of Energy and Planning.

 

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