November 2, 2013

Federal heating aid delayed because of budget battle, shutdown

Low-income Mainers who rely on LIHEAP for heating help will have to wait for funds to come through.

By Eric Russell
Staff Writer

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Keith Franklin of Cash Energy delivers heating oil recently to a home in Old Orchard Beach. The state is still waiting for word on what kind of federal fuel assistance Mainers can expect for the coming winter.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette / Staff Photographer

MaineHousing manages the LIHEAP program in Maine, and local community action programs process applications.

Eligibility is determined by income and household size. A family of two must earn less than $23,265 a year to qualify, and a family of four must earn less than $35,325. For households with elderly residents, people with disabilities or children younger than 2, the income thresholds are slightly higher.

For nearly all recipients, LIHEAP does not cover all heating costs. The average cost per year to heat a 1,500-square-foot home with oil is more than $3,000, according to recent data provided by the Governor’s Office of Energy Independence. For propane, the average annual cost is more than $4,000.

LIHEAP has served an average of about 50,000 households in Maine every year for the past decade – about 9 percent – although the average benefit has varied considerably. In 2004, the average benefit was $441. In 2009, the average peaked at $917.

In the 2010-11 heating season, Maine received $56.5 million, a number inflated by extra funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. In 2011-12, it fell to $38.6 million. During the most recent heating season, the amount was cut to $34.9 million because of sequestration.

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

Twitter: @PPHEricRussell

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