Rising heating oil prices create crisis for low-income Vermonters

Print More

(Host) Everyone who heats with oil or propane is feeling it.

Fuel prices are high and climbing higher. The federal government reports that heating oil prices jumped 15 percent just from October to November.

This morning, we have two reports on the oil price situation.

First, VPR’s John Dillon looks at what the high prices mean for consumers who get help from state and federal programs.

(Dillon) There are two ways to look at skyrocketing fuel oil prices. The first is to click on the government’s Energy Information Administration web site. There you’ll find the official statistics on how fast and how high prices have climbed.

Heating oil, for example, is up 74 percent from last year. Propane is up 39 percent from the last heating season.

But to really gauge the impact of this price shock, call Sandy Neely. She oversees the Morrisville office of Central Vermont Community Action, an anti-poverty agency.

(Neely) "We had a phone call come in this morning, looking for kerosene, and they were almost out of fuel, and for 100 gallons of kerosene, the going rate, as we speak today, it was $3.71 a gallon."

(Dillon) Neely did the math. The average benefit under the federal government’s low income heating assistance program is around $1,500 dollars. That would buy about two deliveries – or about 400 gallons of fuel.

(Dillon) Does two deliveries get you through the winter?

(Neely) "No! Not usually. Not usually. Kerosene usually goes for mobile homes. And mobile homes have proven not to be the most well insulated. So they’re apt to go through – we’ve seen a thousand gallons in some."

(Dillon) Tim Searles sees the skyrocketing fuel prices from another perspective. Searles heads the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity. He says low income people face a growing heating fuel crisis in part because Congress has failed to pass a budget for most federal programs. That means fuel assistance is funded at last year’s levels.

(Searles) "Which basically was not any higher than the previous year’s levels. LIHEAP funding in general has been fairly static over the last three or four years. Meanwhile, low income people have seen the cost of heating their homes double, in some cases more than double."

(Dillon) LIHEAP stands for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. It helps about 25,000 Vermonters – those whose incomes are at or below 125 percent of the federal poverty level.

Searles is calling on the state to step in with $10 million dollars to help people stay warm.

(Searles) "We’re heading into a situation that we have never faced before. People have never been challenged with such high energy prices for home heating. Unless we commit significantly more resources to this problem, people are going to go cold."

(Dillon) Administration Secretary Michael Smith says Vermont has already been generous. He says the Douglas Administration has supplemented LIHEAP over the last four years with about $20 million in state dollars.

(Smith) "So we have made a commitment here to fund this program and we will continue to monitor the situation this year and look at the fuel crisis program to see if any additional funding is needed. But I want to make sure that everyone knows that no one will go cold this winter."

(Dillon) Smith says the state will monitor the situation to see if more emergency help is needed.

Searles says the coming heating season will strain the budgets of middle income Vermonters. For low income people, he says, it’s a crisis.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

Comments are closed.