(Host) The Douglas administration says it’s willing to seriously consider a proposal to help low income Vermonters pay their energy bills. The proposal would be paid for by imposing a 1.5 percent surcharge on all electric and gas bills.
VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.
(Kinzel) A coalition of consumer groups, including AARP, COVE and the Vermont Low Income Advocacy Council, are strongly urging the Legislature and the Douglas administration to support a plan to limit how much money lower income Vermonters have to pay in energy costs.
The proposal would make $10 million available to ensure that no Vermonter has to pay more than six percent of their income for basic energy expenses. For instance, a family with an income of $20,000 would receive a subsidy if their energy costs exceeded $1,200 a year. The program would be financed by all ratepayers in the state through the imposition of a one and a half percent surcharge on electric and gas bills.
Don Merit is a spokesperson for AARP Vermont, a group that represents over 100,000 people in the state over the age of 50:
(Merit) “The high cost of heat and electric is a crippling burden for low income Vermonters, many of whom are seniors on fixed incomes. Despite the fact that Vermont has some of the highest heat and electric costs in the country, we are the only state in New England that doesn’t [have] a bill assistance program to ease the burden. And as fuel and electric prices continue to soar the problem gets even worse.”
(Kinzel) Public Service Department Commissioner David O’Brien says the groups raise a serious problem and he hopes to work with them to find a solution:
(O’Brien) “The difficult part will be, is we’re talking about a $10 million additional charge to ratepayers and how that would affect different rate classes and that sort of thing. We’re always sensitive to adding costs to ratepayers but I think the compelling thing here is that we are last in the nation in terms of affordability for energy bills and certainly that’s not a place we want to be. So I welcome this proposal as a means to get the conversation going here and to look at what is possible and what can be done.”
(Kinzel) The program as drafted would not provide subsidies for heating oil costs. But consumer advocates say limiting electric costs means that families will have more money available to pay their heating oil bills.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.