East Boston experienced its first cold snap of the season last week as temperatures plummeted into the teens.
However, there’s relief from paying those high New England heating costs for hundreds of low-income residents in the neighborhood.
At the beginning of November, Action for Boston Community Development (ABCD) kicked off the annual Fuel Assistance Program at ABCD’s Meridian Street APAC office and workers say that the program is in full swing and are encouraging residents to sign up.
“Many people who never had to ask for help before are turning to ABCD,” said President/CEO of ABCD John Drew. “Unemployment, underemployment or disabilities make it impossible for too many families to handle basic needs and a harsh winter through the holiday season only adds to their struggles.”
Drew said every year in Eastie, ABCD and APAC have older people choosing between heat and medicine and food as well as reports of children huddled in bitter cold apartments unable to do homework. But through the federal Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) ABCD and APAC can help people to survive the winter months ahead. Drew urges even those families who are unsure whether they qualify for fuel assistance should apply immediately.
While the program is in full swing, U.S. Sen. Ed Markey is helping the Fuel Assistance effort in Eastie and held a press conference last week at ABCD’s offices calling for the Trump administration to immediately increase funding to the LIHEAP program to avoid a crisis in low-income neighborhoods.
“I want to thank John Drew and ABCD for providing the special energy needed to fuel our fight for LIHEAP,” said Markey. “John and ABCD are doing God’s work every day to help our poorest and most vulnerable residents access the resources they need to live with dignity. They make ABCD stand for aiding and bettering communities daily. And my special thanks to Louise Peatfield of East Boston for joining us today to share with us stories about how important home heating support is for their households.”
Markey commented that Ralph Waldo Emerson once said “You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late”.
“Well, LIHEAP is that kindness, and too late is a frigid Massachusetts winter,” he said. “The Low Income Home Energy Assistance program is more than just a line in the budget – it is a life line during tough economic times. But the number of households eligible for LIHEAP continues to vastly exceed those receiving assistance. No household should have to suffer chills in order to pay their bills this winter.”
Markey said LIHEAP funding helps families stay warm even when the snow is falling, the wind is blowing, and budgets get tight.
“LIHEAP serves 160,000 families across Massachusetts, and in Boston, ABCD uses this critical funding to help nearly 26,000 people in the area with their fuel assistance and other energy needs,” said Markey. “And we all know that when temperatures drop, heating bills begin to pile up for many families across the Commonwealth. But when they and ABCD turn to LIHEAP for assistance, they are finding cuts that will make winter very difficult. New England winters are often severe,but any budget cuts threatening programs that serve the neediest — including LIHEAP — could make this an historically harsh winter.”
Markey said sadly, despite escalating home heating fuel prices, LIHEAP’s authorized funding level has remained stagnant since 2005.
“But that didn’t stop President Trump from proposing to completely eliminate the LIHEAP program in both of his past budget requests,” said Markey. “He was unsuccessful, but the only thing colder than a New England winter is a Trump LIHEAP budget. But the Trump administration’s attacks on LIHEAP recipients haven’t stopped there. LIHEAP funding to Massachusetts decreased by $11 million this year, even as total funding for LIHEAP increased by $50 million. And that’s because the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is using outdated energy price information to determine LIHEAP allocations.”
Markey said HHS is currently using two-year-old data for fuel costs, instead of up-to-date information in determining how to allocate a portion of LIHEAP funds.
“As a result, some of the LIHEAP money that gets awarded to states like Massachusetts is divorced from the reality of what families will spend this winter to heat their homes,” said Markey. “That’s because, despite this old data being used, the Department of Energy projects that for the bulk of fuels used by families to heat their homes in the Northeast, prices are actually expected to go up. In some cases, they’re going to go up by a lot. That means that our Commonwealth families are going to lose more support than those in any other state in the country.”
For families in Massachusetts and other cold weather states, Markey said residents are not just fighting against bad weather–they’re are fighting against bad political attacks and bad math.
“We need answers from the Trump administration on why it is using outdated energy price information that is divorced from reality,” said Markey. “That is why I am leading my colleagues in the Massachusetts delegation in demanding answers about a convoluted formula that puts past prices over present peril. And that is why I will continue to fight for this program to be fully funded and for emergency LIHEAP funding to be provided this year to help our families facing a home heating crisis. There are always difficult budget decisions to be made, but American families shouldn’t have to decide between heating and eating this winter. Today, we need to turn up the heat on the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress to fully fund this vital program, and continue to help American families during these challenging times.”
Drew echoed Markey’s remarks and added residents in Eastie and across the state shouldn’t have to choose between “heating and eating.”
Applications for fuel assistance are available at ABCD’s downtown office and at the East Boston APAC office at 21 Meridian St. Or you can call the ABCD Fuel Assistance Hotline at 617-357-6012.