Steeper Winter Heating Bills Loom, With Less Federal Aid

Energy costs are expected to rise even faster than overall inflation, but a key assistance program will lack the extra funds it got for Covid relief.

The struggle for low-income families to heat their homes is familiar, but for many, this winter will be even tougher than last.

Energy costs have been a source of significant pain for Americans who are dealing with the fastest inflation in 40 years. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has put a strain on global energy supplies, pushing up fuel prices.

The assistance can be lifesaving for some. When Americans don’t have enough money to heat their homes, they sometimes turn to potentially deadly solutions — using space heaters known to cause fires or enduring freezing temperatures for long periods. In January, at least 19 people died in a Bronx fire linked to a space heater.

“We’ve had, over the years, fires and even deaths because of unsafe heating options that people choose because they can’t afford to pay their heating bill,” said Sharon Scott-Chandler, the chief executive of Action for Boston Community Development, a nonprofit group in Boston that helps distribute the heating assistance funds.

Sydney Fuller-Jones, a 60-year-old Department of Public Health worker who lives in Boston, remembers times when she and her husband could not afford oil to heat their home and water. To give their children a bath, they would warm a large pot on the stove.

Ms. Fuller-Jones, now a widow, relies on energy assistance to heat her current home with gas but said winter energy bills remained a worry.

“I pray — a lot,” she said. “Because some things and situations are just beyond your control.”