PHILLIPS — Jay and Joan Adams received just enough home heating assistance to make it through recent winters, piecing together a budget on federal aid and emergency fuel deliveries from charity groups.

When the Phillips couple, both 74, learned their federal heating aid was cut nearly in half this year, their patchwork approach fell apart, the husband said.

“We don’t have the money to buy enough fuel to make up for the drop,” Jay Adams said.

Three U.S. senators from New England introduced a bill Wednesday to shield the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program from a 45 percent cut proposed by President Obama, according to a news release from Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine.

But as Congress debates reversing the drastic cut in heating aid to thousands of Mainers, many residents and charitable groups are already seeing signs they won’t be able to pick up the slack, according to Judy Frost.

Frost handles heating assistance services for Western Maine Community Action, a social service agency. The agency distributed $2.5 million in LIHEAP aid last year and had that amount cut to about $820,000 this year, she said.

Two charitable groups – the Ecumenical Heating Fund and the Good Neighbor Fuel Fund – make emergency fuel deliveries in Franklin and northern Androscoggin counties, she said.

Those groups spent $80,000 last year on fuel deliveries to low-income households. This year, they’ve already spent $27,000 to provide heating fuel for 150 households, on the same pace as the previous year, Frost said.

“That’s what is scaring our local groups because there is no way they can make up for a million and a half dollars in cuts,” she said, referring to the drop in federal heating aid.

There are also at least 100 households in the region that received LIHEAP aid last year and will lose the benefit because of changes in income eligibility standards, according to Frost.

Last year, a single person with an income of up to $2,058 per month could get the benefit. This year, that dropped to $1,533 per month, she said.

A family of four with combined income up to $3,675 per month was eligible last year, and that standard fell to $2,794, she said.

The Adamses’ only income is about $1,500 per month from Social Security. Western Maine Community Action helped them get federal aid to install insulation to lower their heating costs, Jay Adams said.

Even if the LIHEAP aid is restored to last year’s level, however, the couple will still lack the heating fuel to make it through the season without help from other charitable groups, he said.

“Last year, we got twice as much (heating aid), and that didn’t even last the winter,” he said.

The Adamses get emergency heating fuel from the Ecumenical Heating Fund. The couple also relies on national charitable groups that organize similar programs, Jay Adams said.

The LIHEAP Protection Act presented by Snowe, along with Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Jack Reed, D-R.I., would provide the same level of funding for the program – $4.7 billion – that it received last year, The Associated Press reported.

Maine has gotten $23 million, down from $55.6 million last year, so far for this winter, Snowe said in her release about the cut.

Morning Sentinel Staff Writer David Robinson can be reached at 861-9287 or at:

[email protected]