Vermont to cover federal cuts in heating aid program
By David Taube
VERMONT PRESS BUREAU | October 24,2012
MONTPELIER — The state plans to provide $8.8 million in response to federal cuts for a low-income heating assistance program this winter.
The program, known as LIHEAP, helped 27,100 households last year, providing some $900 per family toward the cost of heating their homes. New cuts in federal aid, however, would reduce that average to just $543 per household for the coming winter.
The state’s newly announced funding, however, should help sustain benefits at the same level this year.
“We wish we could do more, but we felt that we needed to at least have a level-funded benefit,” Administration Secretary Jeb Spaulding said.
The Legislature had appropriated up to $7 million to help buffer cutbacks, provided that the Legislature’s Emergency Board approves the measure, Spaulding said.
That full amount is expected to be used, and the administration is confident the board will agree to the proposal at its meeting scheduled for next week, he said.
In addition, Gov. Shumlin announced that his administration has changed the way benefits will be issued to clients and their fuel suppliers. In the past, benefits were paid once a month for everyone who was eligible. Under a new payment system, families will receive assistance as they become eligible, eliminating what in past winters was a one- or two-month wait for help.
The state’s weatherization trust fund is expected to contribute $900,000 to the heating assistance pool this year, and $900,000 is expected to come from budget adjustments.
For federal fiscal years 2009 to 2011, the state provided no additional funds to the LIHEAP program. But last year, Vermont contributed $6.1 million to compensate for federal cutbacks.
The state’s first round for distributing benefits will begin Nov. 14 for more than 21,000 families.
A family of three can earn up to $2,944 per month in gross income and still be eligible for the program. Other income limits are adjusted based on the number of people in a family.
Mendon resident Susan Meadows Wind helped raise awareness about the looming possibility of reduced award amounts through the media and with a rally on the Statehouse lawn.
Wind said Tuesday she was so overjoyed she was crying when she learned heating assistance benefits wouldn’t be cut this year after all.
“I was just so relieved,” she said.