ABCD Says Low-income Residents Face Perfect Storm as Home Heating Costs Rise, Winter Cold Descends

October 13, 2021

Susan Kooperstein

Lee Phenner

ABCD Says Low-income Residents Face Perfect Storm as Home Heating Costs Rise, Winter Cold Descends

Thousands forced to choose between heat, food, rent, medicine

With dramatic increases in home heating costs predicted, ABCD warns that residents of the Boston area and other cold-weather regions will face a perfect storm of painful conditions as winter cold descends.

The rise in home heating costs is sparked by a 30 percent increase in the cost of natural gas. The National Energy Assistance Directors Association said this week that, based on national data, the average residential natural gas bill will increase from $572 to $859 while heating oil costs per household can rise from $1,272 to $1,900. Costs are higher in the Boston-New England region.

Bitter winter weather means prices can go even higher because of increased demand with a significant impact on low-income households. Last year, 29 percent of families surveyed by the U.S. Census Bureau said they had to reduce spending on essential items such as groceries and medications in order to heat their homes. Many also postponed making rent payments, putting their families at risk of eviction and homelessness.

With the pandemic still delivering a harsh blow to disadvantaged neighborhoods where unemployment remains high and with housing and food costs continuing to rise, many families and seniors are barely getting by. Major assistance with winter heating bills is vital to keeping them in their homes and avoiding homelessness, hypothermia or hospitalization. Last year ABCD processed 21,501 applications – 2,000 more than the previous year.

ABCD providing $600 per household maximum benefit
Right now the maximum fuel benefit in Massachusetts is $600 for families and seniors living at 100 percent of poverty. That poverty level means an annual income of $26,500 for a family of four or $12,880 for a person living alone.

ABCD President/CEO John J. Drew said that given the plight of the tens of thousands needing help in Massachusetts, ABCD estimates that a minimum of at least $1,800 will be needed to get them through the winter.

“The imminent winter will compound problems already facing low-income families and the elderly and disabled,” said Drew. They are contending with housing and food insecurity, medical problems, getting children back to school – and here comes winter with spiking costs for heat, warm clothing, everything. We expect the state to increase fuel benefit levels as the winter progresses and encourage residents to submit their recertification forms if they received assistance in prior years or to fill out a new application.”

Kathy Tobin, ABCD Director of Energy Services, pointed out that it is important to find out if you qualify for help. She noted the dangers and high cost of residents finding themselves in a no-heat situation: “They may resort to space heaters, which can cause fires if not used safely. They close off rooms and huddle in the kitchen around a stove and pipes in unused rooms burst. They boil water for the heat. Kids wake up cold and go to school sick. Older people are susceptible to hypothermia. It costs everyone more in the end due to illness and fires and poor educational achievement.”

How to apply
ABCD provides home heating fuel assistance to income-eligible residents in Boston, Brookline, Newton and seven communities north of Boston in the Mystic Valley region, including Malden, Medford, Everett, Melrose, Stoneham, Winchester and Woburn.

Residents of Boston, Brookline and Newton can apply by calling ABCD at 617-357-6012. Residents of the Mystic Valley region can call 781-322-6284. They can also call their neighborhood center and make an appointment to fill out fuel assistance forms in person. Previous fuel recipients received recertification forms in the mail which they should fill out and return. First-time applicants can apply online at toapply.org/MassLIHEAP

Help is also available on a sliding scale for those slightly above poverty level, to prevent them from falling through the cracks. For example, a family of four earning $78,751 or a single person with an income of $40,951 may qualify for the current maximum benefit of $430 in fuel assistance.

Even those who are unsure whether they qualify should apply. It is critical to determine eligibility and get into the system at the beginning of the winter season. Once a family qualifies for fuel assistance, benefits are paid directly to the household’s fuel vendor.

More information including a list of Boston-area neighborhood site locations and phone numbers may be found at bostonabcd.org/fuel-assistance.

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 the ABCD WINTER FUND which will be used to help those in fuel assistance emergencies after using up their allocation. Your generous gift can save a household from hypothermia, stop a family from turning to dangerous heating substitutes, prevent sickness, and dramatically improve the quality of life. If you’d like to donate to the ABCD WINTER FUND, please call 617-348-6559, email give@bostonabcd.org or visit bostonabcd.org/donate.