More Funding to Help with Heating Costs
BOSTON — Attorney General Maura Healey announced that her office has awarded nearly $600,000 to organizations across the state to help Massachusetts residents pay their monthly heating bills. “With rising energy rates, extreme cold spells, and the ongoing public health crisis, thousands of households across Massachusetts need help more than ever to pay their heating bills and to make ends meet,” AG Healey said. “I’m grateful that this grant program will provide families with the financial support they need to stay warm and safe in their homes.”
Volatility in global fossil fuel prices and economic uncertainty related to the COVID-19 pandemic have led to high energy prices this winter, along with extreme weather conditions caused by the climate crisis. AG Healey’s new Residential Energy Assistance Grant (REAG) program is providing nearly $600,000 in funding to state agencies, municipalities, and nonprofit organizations that provide direct financial assistance to residents, including subsidized home heating costs and specialized assistance to customers such as translating application documents to access existing heating programs. REAG supports heating assistance for customers using gas, electric, oil and propane for heating.
Approximately 400,000 Massachusetts residential customers currently receive a low-income discount rate on their electric and gas bills, with more customers signing up for payment plans each week. Many residents have fallen further behind on their electric and gas bills during the pandemic. Many of these customers receive heating assistance from the federal Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which provides discount rates to households with an income that is 60 percent or less of the state’s median income. The goal of the AG’s grant program is to provide assistance to families who make 60 to 80 percent of the state’s median income, and, therefore, are ineligible for LIHEAP, and to connect customers for whom LIHEAP assistance is not enough with the supplemental financial help they need to pay their bills.
The AG’s grant announcement builds on the office’s prior Natural Gas Fuel Assistance grant program by expanding the types of fuel sources that are eligible for assistance to include electricity, oil and propane, in addition to natural gas. From 2018–2021, the Natural Gas Fuel Assistance grant program awarded more than $3 million in funding to organizations across the state to help those in need. The new grant program is funded through a settlement the AG’s Office reached in September 2020 with the competitive electric supplier, Starion Energy, for using unfair and deceptive sales tactics to lure more than 100,000 Massachusetts customers into expensive contracts with high electricity rates.
The grant program begins this month and will run through June 15, 2024. This year, the AG’s Office is awarding funding to the following 22 organizations:
Action for Boston Community Development (ABCD) (Middlesex and Suffolk Counties): ABCD will provide direct financial assistance to families in need.
Cambodian Mutual Assistance Association (Greater Lowell): The organization will use the funds to provide direct financial assistance and translation services to the Cambodian American community in Greater Lowell.
Casa Myrna (Greater Boston and Boston Harbor Communities in Middlesex and Norfolk Counties): The organization will provide direct financial assistance to predominantly Black and Hispanic survivors of domestic and dating violence.
City of Marlborough: The municipal program will use the funds to provide direct financial assistance to those in need and perform outreach in multiple languages.
La Colaborativa (Suffolk County): The Latin-led organization will provide direct financial assistance to Latin immigrants in need.
Lend a Hand Society (Greater Boston): The organization will use the funding to assist households – the majority of whom are families with children – in Greater Boston.
Louis D. Brown Peace Institute (Suffolk County): The organization will provide direct financial assistance to families impacted by murder, trauma, grief, and loss.
Massachusetts Alliance of Portuguese Speakers (Essex, Middlesex, Norfolk, Suffolk and Worcester Counties): The program will provide a mix of direct financial subsidies and specialized assistance to those in the Portuguese-speaking community.
The Massachusetts Association for Community Action (MASSCAP) (Statewide): MASSCAP will provide its community action agency partners from across the state with funds to help customers who participate in LIHEAP, as well as those who do not qualify for the program.
Massachusetts Center for Native American Awareness, Inc (Essex, Middlesex and Suffolk Counties): The organization will provide direct financial assistance to Native Americans, including many who make 60-80 percent of the state median income, and others who fall outside of the geographic assistance areas of recognized Native American tribes that provide fuel assistance programs.
Mental Health Association (Franklin and Hampden Counties): The organization will provide direct financial assistance to Springfield clients who are struggling with mental illness, developmental disabilities, brain injuries, substance use and homelessness.
Quaboag Hills Community Coalition (Hampden, Hampshire and Worcester Counties): The organization will provide direct financial assistance for low-income residents of the Quaboag Hills region in Western Massachusetts.
REACH (Greater Boston Communities in Middlesex County): The organization will provide funds for survivors of domestic violence.
Saheli, Inc (Statewide): The organization will provide direct financial assistance to South Asian and Arab immigrant women who are survivors of domestic violence.
Springfield Partners for Community Action: The organization will use the funds to increase the reach of its current program which helps residents in need who do not qualify for traditional fuel assistance programs due to income limitations.
Springfield Vietnamese Cultural Association (Franklin, Hampden and Hampshire Counties): The organization will provide direct financial assistance to Vietnamese and other vulnerable communities in Western Massachusetts.
The Southeast Asian Coalition of Massachusetts (Essex, Plymouth, Suffolk and Worcester Counties): The organization will provide translation and specialized support to Southeast Asian and Arabic-speaking households.
Town of Dartmouth: The town will provide direct financial assistance to residents in affordable housing and those that live in environmental justice communities.
Town of Norton: The municipal-run program will expand its outreach to senior and veteran populations who need assistance in paying their heating bills.
Town of Palmer: The town will provide direct financial assistance to residents in need.
Town of Salisbury: The town will use the funds to supplement an existing emergency financial assistance program.
Town of Weymouth: The organization will provide direct financial assistance to seniors making 60-80 percent of the state’s median income.
In November, AG Healey launched a campaign to educate residents about the new and expanded programs available to assist them in paying their energy bills with this winter’s high rates. The AG’s Office urges customers who are experiencing financial difficulty to contact their utility company to learn about the range of assistance programs that they may qualify for, including flexible payment plans as well as balance forgiveness programs. Availability of the flexible payment plans will vary by utility. The AG’s Office encourages customers who are interested in flexible payment plans to contact their utility before the end of March, when the winter heating season comes to an end.
Low-income customers, who have a household income that does not exceed 60 percent of the state median income, can apply for LIHEAP assistance through April 30, 2022. For help determining eligibility for LIHEAP and to learn how to apply, customers should contact their local Community Action Network.
As the state’s ratepayer advocate, AG Healey’s Office works to ensure reasonable energy prices and to educate customers on available programs that will help them stay warm.
For more information on energy prices and the available assistance programs view the AG’s resource flyer that is available in multiple languages and webpage.
The Residential Energy Assistance Grant program was put together by AG Healey’s Director of Grants Management Nathan Gardner, Assistant Attorney General and Policy Advisor Elizabeth Mahony, and Managing Attorney Matthew Saunders, both of AG Healey’s Energy and Telecommunications Division.