WASHINGTON — Congress is poised to reduce federal home heating aid by about 25 percent this winter, a move that could impact thousands of poor and elderly families in New England.
The $1 trillion-plus year-end spending package lawmakers approved Friday included $3.5 billion for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, a cut of $1.2 billion from last year. The Senate is expected to pass the measure Saturday.
Vermont’s congressional delegation said the reduction was disappointing news, but the lawmakers vowed to fight for more money for the program when Congress reconvenes next month.
“The relentless budget battles in Washington are taking their toll on those who can least afford it,” Sen. Patrick Leahy, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Peter Welch said in a joint statement.
Several Northeast states already have reduced heating aid benefits this winter.
Families in New England, where the winters are long and cold and people rely heavily on costly oil heat, are expected to be especially hard hit by the reductions.
Higher home heating oil prices and more families seeking aid due to the sour economy are straining resources. Boston officials have said there’s been an increase of more than 10 percent in the number of heat aid applicants this winter.
Families can expect to pay, on average, about $3,300 to heat a home with oil this winter in New England, according to the National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association. That’s about $500 more than last winter. About half of the region’s homes use oil heat, the group said.
In fall 2008, amid concerns about rising fuel prices, the government nearly doubled fuel assistance, releasing $5.1 billion to states for the following winter.
But last February, President Barack Obama proposed cutting the program nearly in half, calling for about $2.5 billion. The House decided to add about $1 billion to Obama’s budget request in passing its spending bill Friday.