With winter temperatures now in full chill-mode, Action for Boston Community Development (ABCD) is urging residents to apply for funds from the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) to help cover utility costs.
Massachusetts received $130 million from the federal government to disperse specifically for heating assistance, according to ABCD, the multi-service anti-poverty agency. Residents who qualify for LIHEAP could receive up to $1,500 to go toward the cost of their utilities bill until April.
Sharon Scott-Chandler, CEO of ABCD, said the amount of fuel assistance varies based on an individual’s income level and how many people live in the household. People can apply for heating assistance as long as their income are, at most, 60 percent of the median income in Massachusetts, but Scott-Chandler advises that Bostonians should check on their eligibility no matter what.
“Some people think, oh, since I’m not eligible for SNAP benefits, therefore, I’m not going to be eligible for fuel assistance,” she said. “But that’s not the case.”
Lifelong Dorchester resident Paulette Gray has been a client of the program since 1988. At age 72, she lives alone in an apartment and is disabled,. This season, she says she has received $1,200 to go toward her heating bills. Her apartment is heated by oil, the price of which is currently at an average of $4 per gallon in Massachusetts.
“I mean, it’s really, really a godsend, trust me,” Gray said about the heating assistance program.
Scott-Chandler estimated that her agency serves about 30,000 clients each season, mostly in the city of Boston and surrounding cities. The amount of funds they’ve been able to disperse has varied, too. Last year and the year before, during the pandemic, she said, the federal government had allocated enough funds to allow for ABCD to provide $2,200 for the lowest bracket of eligible clients, compared to $1,500 this season.
“The impact of that is, sometimes people can’t get through the winter,” Scott-Chandler said. “For example, if it costs $1,200 to fill up your tank once, then that’s gone. And that’s when you have people really in crisis because they can’t afford to fill up their tank again.”
Gray said she topped her tank in November and again in December, and that used up her stipend. She says she’s comfortable, but she doesn’t tinker with her thermostat too often.
“Thankfully, the landlord just had all of our windows replaced, so they don’t leak in cold air at all,” she said. “It’s a big difference.”
Despite the lower benefits this season, Gray highly recommends working with ABCD. She routinely takes advantage of other services to help people.
“I think [applying for heating assistance] was probably about the easiest thing I could do,” she said. “I’ve told so many people about it.”
“The thing about ABCD,” said Scott-Chandler, “is that we can help people in a variety of ways. Even if they end up not being eligible for fuel assistance, we might be able to direct them to other services that they could use. We will help everyone who comes to us.”
For more information on how to apply, go to bostonabcd.org/service/fuel-assistance-2.