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New Hampshire: heating-fuel aid up 60 percent this winter

Nov. 19—Clients in the state's fuel assistance program will be eligible for a 60% boost in benefits to cope with rising energy costs this winter, Gov. Chris Sununu announced Thursday.

They will need it, as energy costs are expected to rise as much as 50%, according to industry analysts.

Benefits will range from $253 to $2,520 for the entire heating season, up from $158 to $1,575 last winter, Sununu said.

"Due to a nationwide spike in energy prices, we are taking steps to help those in need. If you are struggling to pay for home heating costs or know someone who is, help is just a phone call away."

Support for these benefits comes from the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) program.

Last year, the program provided benefits to nearly 30,000 people in New Hampshire, including families, senior citizens and adults with disabilities.

This announcement came a few weeks after the state's congressional delegation confirmed New Hampshire would receive $25.2 million in LIHEAP grants.

In light of rising heating costs for the coming winter, assistance for those struggling to afford heating fuel will increase 60 percent, Gov. Chris Sununu and the state Department of Energy announced Thursday.

Last year, households that qualified based on income could receive anywhere from $158 to $1,575; this winter, aid is starting at $253, with eligible families receiving as much as $2,520 in grants to cover heating costs. Aid is calculated based on income, household size, housing type, and fuel type, and the money is given as a grant, which does not have to be paid back.

That money is available through the N.H. Fuel Assistance Program, which receives federal funds. The state recently accepted $35 million in federal stimulus money for the program, more than doubling the amount available in grants compared to last year. And in early November, the state’s congressional delegation announced an additional $25 million in funding had been secured for the program.

The program covers any kind of heating fuel, and those making up to 60 percent of the state median income are eligible. For example, that would amount to $37,696 per year or less for an individual and $72,493 per year or less for a family of four. The program runs from Dec. 1 through April 30, so heating bills between that time can be covered by the benefit.

The increase in the program is in step with the rising cost of fuel. Those heating with natural gas can expect a 29 percent hike in their heating bill, while heating oil is projected to increase by 39 percent. Propane is even higher, with projections that it could increase by as much as 46 percent.

Compared with 2020, homeowners will spend 54% more for propane, 43% more for home heating oil, 30% more for natural gas and 6% more for electricity, according to a report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The forecast is the result of a spike in energy costs, especially on oil and natural gas. The price of natural gas, the most common fuel used to heat homes in America, has gone up to levels unseen since 2008, according to energy analysts.

The fuel assistance program serves families making up to 60% of the state's median income, and benefit amounts vary depending on a variety of factors including income, household size, housing type and fuel source.

"Increased energy costs represent a heavy burden for all Granite Staters, especially for low-income households," said interim Energy Commissioner Jared Chicoine.

Democratic legislative leaders slammed Sununu after the Public Utilities Commission rejected a plan last week that would have spent more than $350 million on energy efficiency projects over the next three years.

The PUC instead approved an order that cuts annual spending on energy efficiency projects that comes from a charge on all monthly electric bills.

"Emergency help is great and I'm glad that we're providing it; at the same time, this administration is actively preventing measures to reduce heating costs long-term (funding NH Saves to help insulate homes), even though every $1 spent saves more than $3," said Rep. Jackie Chretien, D-Manchester, a member of the House Science, Technology and Energy Committee. "We have to stop being so shortsighted!"

In his own statement last week, Consumer Advocate Don Kreis called the PUC ruling "a radical act of destruction."

Those who heat with electricity or natural gas can get LIHEAP assistance to help pay their bills from Nov. 1 until the end of the winter season.

Those heating from oil, wood and other sources can get help with deliveries made to their home from Oct. 1 to April 30, officials said.

If heat is included in rent and not subsidized, eligible renters can qualify to receive a monthly heating voucher to help with those costs.

Residents seeking help should contact their local community action agency that administers the program.

Kevin Landrigan, The New Hampshire Union Leader, Manchester

Amanda Gokee N.H. Bulletin Nov 19, 2021

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