Some of the days may still be warm and sunny, but the cool nighttime air tells us winter is right around the corner.

For many Mainers, that’s anxiety-inducing news. Heating oil, the heating source for 60 percent of Maine homes, is nearly $2 more a gallon than a year ago. Some natural gas customers will see their rates more than double.

Particularly for low-income residents, keeping the house warm this winter will be harder than ever. Already they wonder if they’ll have to choose between being warm, fed or up to date on their medications.

They need help, and Congress should give it to them. Now.

Last year, a cold winter coupled with high electricity rates, put stress on many Mainers. But at least they had access to a federal heating assistance program bolstered with an extra $4.5 billion from President Biden’s American Rescue Plan.

Gov. Mills has asked for more money this year as well, as have the members of Maine’s congressional delegation, along with some lawmakers from other states.


But as of now, congressional committees only have approved about $4 billion for the annual heating and cooling assistance program, about equal to pre-pandemic levels. But with heating prices at a 10-year high, people who qualify won’t get nearly as much help – it’s the difference between receiving a tank and a half of heating oil versus just half a tank.

That difference could mean the world to some struggling Mainers. They are certainly bracing for a tough winter. Community action programs said recently that they are receiving applications for heating assistance at a record rate, Maine Public reported.

“We’re heading into this winter season in a very different position than we were heading into last winter season, with a greater need and less of an understanding of how that need might be met,” Jason Parent, CEO of the Aroostook County Action Program, told the station.

The stress and anxiety of heading into a Maine winter not knowing if you can afford heat cannot be understated. Throughout the state right now our neighbors are doing the math and wondering how they’ll afford a 70 percent increase in their heating bills at the same time that inflation has raised prices on nearly everything else they need.

More than 90 percent of the Mainers who receive help through the program are over the age of 65, under 6, or disabled.

Some will be forced to keep their home cold this winter so that they can make their housing or car payment, get groceries and fill their prescriptions. Some will go the other way, and cut back on health care or food to stay warm. Either way can be dangerous or unhealthy.

They shouldn’t have to make those decisions, nor should they be forced to live now with so many questions about how they’ll get through the winter.

Members of Congress, none of whom have to worry for a minute whether they’ll stay warm this winter, can take away that anxiety right now. They can give Americans who desperately need it a lifeline through the coming winter. They shouldn’t wait one second longer to do so.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.