LIHEAP benefits to increase this winter

MONTPELIER — State officials said Thursday that a home heating assistance program will increase its benefit level for most beneficiaries during the upcoming winter season.

The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, funded by both state and federal dollars, will see its average benefit rise from $699 last winter to $865 this winter, according to Gov. Peter Shumlin, Agency of Human Services Secretary Hal Cohen and Department for Children and Families Commissioner Ken Schatz. The average benefit is expected to cover about 54 percent of heating costs for households.

thermostatThe state officials said they anticipate receiving $18.9 million in federal funding this year for the LIHEAP program. That will be added to about $3.8 million in leftover money from last year plus the state contribution approved in the 2017 fiscal year budget. Overall, the state has more than $23.6 million for the program this year.

Overall funding for LIHEAP has fluctuated in recent years. During the Great Recession, when fuel prices spiked, the federal government provided supplemental funding. In 2009, for example, the federal government provided $38.6 million, which provided an average benefit of more than $1,700.

“Every year it looks little different,” said Sean Brown, deputy commissioner of DCF.

More than 21,500 low-income Vermonters will receive assistance from the program this winter to help heat their homes. The number of Vermont households receiving assistance has been in decline since it topped out at 27,776 in 2013.

Cohen said the benefit increase this year is the result of several factors.

“Most Vermonters will get a higher fuel benefit this year because fuel prices have remained steady while caseloads have been going down,” he said.

Vermont households may be eligible for fuel assistance through LIHEAP if their gross household incomes are at or below 185 percent of the federal poverty level. Benefits are available to both homeowners and people who rent. The program only considers income and does not factor in other assets such as savings, retirement accounts or property.

Shumlin hailed the increased benefit Thursday.

“This is an incredibly important program that helps many Vermonters during the cold winter months,” Shumlin said in a statement. “I am pleased that the average benefit will increase to help those Vermonters who need it most. I am also pleased that caseloads are on the decline, a good sign that Vermonters who have been struggling are seeing incomes increase.”

Vermonters who are customers of Green Mountain Power or Vermont Gas may also be eligible for discounts on their monthly bills. More information is available at: energyhelp.vt.gov.

Officials said LIHEAP fuel benefits for the upcoming winter season will begin to be distributed later this month.

neal.goswami@timesargus.com

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