ABCD Urges Struggling Elders, Families to Apply for Fuel Assistance as Pandemic Surges, Winter Cold Descends

November 13, 2020

Susan Kooperstein

Lee Phenner

HHS releases federal LIHEAP funds as COVID-19,unemployment expand need in low-income neighborhoods

As the COVID-19 pandemic surges and cold temperatures descend on the region, ABCD encourages low-income individuals and families who are struggling to get by to apply for home heating fuel assistance.

ABCD administers the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) for income-eligible residents in Boston, Brookline, Newton and seven communities north of Boston: Malden, Medford, Everett, Melrose, Stoneham, Winchester and Woburn. Last year ABCD provided fuel assistance to more than 25,000 households.

This year the need for heating assistance is greater than ever as COVID-19 continues to take a huge toll on low-income neighborhoods and communities of color where long-standing health disparities make residents highly vulnerable to the virus and where escalating unemployment has led to mounting distress.

On November 5, the federal Department of Health & Human Services released $3.36 billion to fund LIHEAP nationwide. Massachusetts received $123 million – up about $9 million from last year. Federal CARES Act funding designated for fuel assistance increases the Massachusetts allocation to $150 million.

Right now the maximum fuel assistance benefit is $600, with benefits scheduled to be increased soon. Last year the maximum benefit was $1,140.

“We thank our Congressional delegation for their tireless advocacy for fuel assistance and appreciate the work of HHS in getting the funds released as bitter cold descends on America’s northern tier,” said ABCD President/CEO John J. Drew.

Drew noted that the upcoming winter holds harsh challenges for low-income, working families. “With COVID-19 surging and no sign of Congress passing a second sweeping virus relief bill that would keep unemployed workers and small businesses afloat and make it possible for struggling families to survive, the elders and families served by ABCD face a desperate situation,” he said.

ABCD’s Fuel Assistance Program opened for applications on November 1 and takes applications through April 30. There is a wide range of eligibility based on income and number of household members. Read the guidelines here.

For example, a family living at or below the federal poverty level of $26,200 for a family of four would receive the maximum fuel assistance benefit of $600. A person living alone at or below the federal poverty level of $12,760 would receive that same benefit.

But those with incomes above poverty level are also eligible. Years ago the state expanded eligibility levels in order to keep those slightly above poverty from slipping through the cracks. For example, under the current benefit levels, a family of four earning 60 percent of the state’s median income or $75,200 can receive $430 in fuel assistance. A single person earning $39,105 also receives $430.

As noted earlier, those benefit levels are expected to rise significantly in the near future. ABCD pays the household’s fuel vendor directly.

For ABCD Fuel Assistance information, call 617.357.6012, visit bostonabcd.org/fuel-assistance or contact an ABCD neighborhood center. Locations can be found on the ABCD website homepage: bostonabcd.org.

Fuel Assistance boosts health, safety, energy efficiency
Home heating assistance is vital to keeping disadvantaged individuals, elders, and families healthy by preventing hypothermia and subsequent hospitalization. And it keeps them safe; too many would otherwise opt for dangerous alternatives such as space heaters or ovens. ABCD also offers qualifying families a comprehensive range of energy services to keep families warm, safe and healthy including repair and replacement of inoperable or highly inefficient heating systems, utility discounts, weatherization, programs to improve energy conservation, and much more.

Donations gratefully accepted
ABCD is grateful for any private donations to home heating fuel assistance or the ABCD COVID RELIEF NOW campaign. Donations can stop a family from turning to dangerous heating substitutes, prevent illness, and dramatically improve the quality of life. To donate, please call 617-348-6559, email give@bostonabcd.org or visit bostonabcd.org/donate.