As Vermont heads into the heating season, the state has launched a major change in how it helps people who heat with wood.
For the first time, the fuel assistance program is making benefits directly to people on electronic debit cards.
Richard Moffi directs the program. He says the change applies only to people who heat with wood. Instead of payments going directly to firewood dealers, the idea now is that recipients are responsible for finding the best deal.
"Firewood is pretty much a cash business and there are lots of dealers out there," Moffi says. Recipients "can shop around for pellets and get the best deal they can. And they get to buy their wood product for heating from any dealer they choose."
The state has sent out two letters to people notifying them of the change. But there still may be some confusion as the money begins to show up on the debit cards, known as EBT cards. Moffi says it’s up to the recipients to spend the funds wisely.
"If a client chooses to use their benefit for something other than fuel and then they go to crisis assistance this winter seeking help to obtain firewood or pellets, the worker at crisis fuel assistance will inquire as to how they used their seasonal fuel benefit, how much wood they acquired, and how come they ran out as quickly as they did," he says.
The state helps about 1,700 people who heat with wood. The average benefit is $465.