Crisis fuel runs out on Friday; Shumlin says administration will find $900,000 for low-income heating program

Gov. Peter Shumlin speaks at a press conference. Photo by Alicia Freese

Gov. Peter Shumlin speaks at a press conference. Photo by Alicia Freese

Gov. Peter Shumlin announced today that the state’s crisis fuel fund needs an injection of $900,000 or it will run dry by Friday.

During a liquid-themed press conference, the governor began with a ceremonial tree-tapping exercise on the Statehouse lawn before announcing the unexpected shortage in the crisis fuel fund. Shumlin pledged that the fund will be shored up, despite the constricted budget, but said he didn’t know where the money will come from. “We’re figuring that out,” he said.

The current shortfall represents about a third of the amount originally deposited in the emergency fund — $2.8 million.

The crisis fuel fund, which supplements LIHEAP, the state’s low income heating fuel assistance program, has served 4,500 families so far this year; last year it served 7,200. It runs from the last Monday in November to the last Friday in April.

Shumlin said the shortage came as a surprise to his administration and, other than a period of frigid weather, they aren’t sure what to attribute it to.

The unexpected upsurge in demand, coupled with uncertainty about federal funding, is prompting the Shumlin administration to take a closer look at the program.

LIHEAP is currently funded by $8.8 million from the state and $17.7 million in federal funding. Federal funds have been dwindling since 2010 and will decline further if the sequestration occurs. A report from the U.S. House Democratic Appropriations Committee shows that total federal LIHEAP funding to states would decrease by $185 million or 5 percent. This comes on top of a 32 percent reduction that has taken place since 2010. In Vermont, there could be a $2 million drop in funding if the sequester goes through, according to Matt Cota, lobbyist for the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association.

“While we are running a great program, it could be more efficient. And clearly we are not going to get more federal dollars,” Shumlin said.

The Shumlin administration plans to revisit the eligibility guidelines for the program.

Dave Yacavone, commissioner of the Department for Children and Families, which administers LIHEAP, said, “We’ll do a lot of that through rulemaking when we look at eligibility — trying to make sure we serve the most vulnerable of the vulnerable when we don’t have enough resources. That will be an open and transparent process.”

Currently 80 percent of households who receive fuel assistance include an elderly person, a disabled person, or a child under 6, according to Yacavone.

In order to be eligible for the LIHEAP, families must be at or below 185 percent of the federal poverty level and to qualify for the crisis fund, they must be at or below 200 percent.

Shumlin says the state also hopes to save money in the future by negotiating better fuel purchasing deals, stepping up weatherization efforts, and more accurately calibrating how many gallons households need.

Alicia Freese

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20 Comments on "Crisis fuel runs out on Friday; Shumlin says administration will find $900,000 for low-income heating program"

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Jim Barrett
3 years 5 months ago

You’ll notice that reports out of Montpelier are always great until the money is needed for more people on welfare, food stamps, child care, school lunches, homeless, fuel and the list is endless. Another odd part of this little article exclaims that no one knew there was a shortage and all I can say; it is yet another example the government doesn’t have a clue as to what is going on but is an expert on taxing us to death!

Lee Stirling
3 years 5 months ago
How many low-income Vermonters actually own their own home or condo and can afford to pay the property taxes and insurance that goes along with that? What I’m getting at here is that given the large financial barriers to home ownership, it’s unlikely that many of those receiving this heating assistance actually own their own home. They’re almost certainly renting a house, condo, or apartment from a landlord. Weatherization funding to increase thermal efficiency of these rental units is a great idea and one that would stand to lower heating costs. But who is really going to benefit here? Any… Read more »
Cheryl Pariseau
3 years 5 months ago

Lee: I wish I could say that you are right, but I cannot. Some who have section 8 rental voucher are allowed to convert them to home ownership vouchers. When converted this allows the voucher to be used for assistance in paying mortgage, taxes, and insurance. http://www.vsha.org/homeown.htm

Lee Stirling
3 years 5 months ago
I don’t recall saying that 100% of those receiving LIHEAP assistance live in rented units. Certainly there are some LIHEAP recipients who own their own home, for example some elderly individuals on fixed incomes may have owned their home for decades. From the link you sent me, it’s unclear though how easily one could make headway out of the conversion from Section 8 rental to Section 8 homeowner voucher. What bank will finance the mortgage of a condo or home for these individuals if they have Section 8 assistance? What sales prices are we talking about? What interest rates could… Read more »
sandra bettis
3 years 5 months ago

i know of a case where they are going thru an enormous amount of fuel for 2 reasons – one is that the house is not insulated and the other is that they are not conserving – i guess you are more apt to conserve if you are paying the bill. anyway, if this is an example, then i can see why the fund would run out of money very quickly.

rosemarie jackowski
3 years 5 months ago
The crisis fuel assistance program, as it now exists, needs to be reformed. Many who should be eligible are not. Many Vermonters are living in 55 degree homes – with just enough heat to keep pipes from freezing. BROC, according to their website, disqualifies those who pay their bills by check. Also those who have no access to transportation to get to the office are disqualified. From the BROC website: “…requires receipts for expenses paid in the last 30 days…”. (Cancelled checks are not always available within the 30 day deadline.) Are ‘disqualifying’ requirements purposely in effect to discourage use… Read more »
Jason Farrell
3 years 5 months ago
Here’s the entire quote from the BROC “Crisis Fuel & Utility” page. It appears that Ms. Jackowski left out part of the quote in her post above. “Eligibility for assistance considers all income in the household and resources and requires receipts for expenses paid in the last 30 days.” http://www.broc.org/energycrisisfuel.php Nothing I’ve read at the BROC site supports the assertion that, “BROC, according to their website, disqualifies those who pay their bills by check.” In fact, it appears to be precisely the opposite. Asking for RECEIPTS for expenses (nowhere is it stated that cancelled checks are necessary) is an equitable… Read more »
rosemarie jackowski
3 years 5 months ago

Jason…If bills are paid by a check that is mailed, it is often impossible to get a receipt within the 30 day requirement. Eventually, a cancelled check or copy of one is avalable – but not within the 30 days. This is a special hardship for the disabled and those without transportation. Some folks are lucky to get to the post office once a week, and some never get to the bank.

Jason Farrell
3 years 5 months ago
Rosemarie…. What’s would your solution be? Not to count these expenditures against an applicant’s household income? Not counting these expenses, no matter what method of payment is used, would lead to more people being disqualified from access to this needed subsidy. You do understand that, right? Your assertions that disqualification is a purposeful effect of the requirement is laughable as the purpose of this component of the process facilitates MORE households becoming qualified than if these receipts weren’t considered as part of a household’s ability to pay. As one who has benefitted from public assistance with my children’s healthcare costs,… Read more »
Jason Farrell
3 years 5 months ago
What would your solution be? Not to count these expenditures against an applicant’s household income? Not counting these expenses, no matter what method of payment is used, would lead to more people being disqualified from access to this needed subsidy. You do understand that, right? Your assertions that this is a purposeful effect of the requirement is laughable. The purpose of this component of the process is to assist MORE households to qualify than were these receipts not considered as part of a households ability to pay. As one who has benefitted from public assistance with my children’s healthcare costs,… Read more »
rosemarie jackowski
3 years 5 months ago
Jason…If an applicant for Crisis Fuel Assistance pays a bill by putting a check in the mail, no receipt is issued at that time. Eventually a cancelled check will exist. The problem is that in a crisis BROC will not authorize fuel without a written receipt. It usually takes weeks for a receipt or proof of cancelled check to be available… especially if the bill paid was mailed accross the country. Therefore the system must be changed so that those who need the fuel can get it. The solution is easy – instead of 30 days, accept ‘receipts’ from 60… Read more »
rosemarie jackowski
3 years 5 months ago

Would it help if there was a greater understanding of poverty in Vermont? The poor and just like you and me – just with less money.
http://mwcnews.net/focus/politics/17768-poverty.html

rosemarie jackowski
3 years 5 months ago

Correction

Would it help if there was a greater understanding of poverty in Vermont? The poor are just like you and me – just with less money.

http://mwcnews.net/focus/politics/17768-poverty.html

Josh Fitzhugh
3 years 5 months ago
The saga of LIHEAP and the search for additional fuel assistance funds is a Vermonot evergreen, i.e., an issue that develops and appears every winter in Vermont. It never seems to get better, and with fuel oil prices likely to increase and federal dollars likely to decrease, the prospect for change is dim. So what can be done? I think a thorough study of the problem would help, asking such questions as: * Should weatherization be mandatory to receive funds? * Are the eligibility criteria appropriate? * Should eligible recipients be forced to move to smaller, less fuel-costly spaces? Do… Read more »
David Bresett
3 years 5 months ago

$900,000 shortage that Shumlin didn’t realize. If he was in the state doing his job, instead of traveling around the world with one of his many girlfriends, maybe he wouldn’t be so clueless. How did this blind man get voted into office here in Vermont. He’s about as useless as they come. Sadly with this guys eye on the big prize, the senate, he could care less about Vermont and it’s inhabitants. Vote this guy out and let’s find a statesman that cares about this Vermont.

Suzan Condon
3 years 5 months ago
So, I work as an Options Counselor for a Council on Aging in Vt. I saw three elders yesterday and I was cold in their homes, every one. Yes they own their homes, they are the old farms that have kept Vermont as it is, alive and beautiful for the next generations. They are the ones who worked those fields and raised their children who often have left Vermont for their own reasons, often times the lack of good paying jobs. Now our elders are alone in their homes, and struggling to make ends meet. None of the ones I… Read more »
rosemarie jackowski
3 years 5 months ago
Susan…I just got home from Price Chopper. While there I met several older women friends who live in Bennington. One is in her 80s. We talked about how it feels to be old in Vermont. Yes, shoveling snow with a sprained wrist, living in 55 degree homes, no help in case of an emergency, almost no transportation out of town, isolation, no money for eyeglasses, of course no dental care… We also talked about trying to find a job at the aqe of 80, with medical problems, and no transportation. The bottiom line is: don’t get old in Vermont, unless… Read more »
Josh Fitzhugh
3 years 5 months ago
As Susan Condon expresses so eloquently with regard to the elderly, this is a difficult problem and we must be sensitive to the contributions of the elderly who have worked so hard to maintain our farms and landscape. But at the end of the day, if they cannot afford to live where they are living, I think they have to move or find solutions other than permanent tax subsidies. I wonder if Susan has heard of Home Share. This is a very successful program active in Central Vermont(and Burlington too I believe) which partners up people like the three elderly… Read more »
rosemarie jackowski
3 years 5 months ago

Josh…I respect your view, but it seems you are blaming the victims here. The elderly continue to pay taxes. Many continue to work, as volunteers, without pay. They are NOT free-loaders. Basically, all they want is a minimum level of necessities so that they can survive.

There are many reasons why Home Share will not work all the time. For those where it works, that is great, but it should not be imposed on anyone.

By your reasoning, a person who cannot afford housing should be satisfied to live under a bridge.

Franklin Lambert
3 years 5 months ago
Many insightful comments on this article, and several solutions to this manmade problem. There are certain things in a civil society which should be part of the “commons”, for the good of the community, and not be privatized, such as water, gas, electricity and heating fuel. These commodities should be paid for with tax revenue, which is another story in itself. It’s sad and appalling to read about so many of our elders having to live with 55 degree heat in their homes for whatever reasons. Is this the way we take care of our elderly, the disabled, our children,… Read more »
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