November 1, 2013 — In the past two weeks, legislatures in both Massachusetts and Vermont approved using state funds to supplement their LIHEAPs. The states cited expected cuts in federal funding and a delay in getting the funds due to the government shutdown as their reasons for intervening.
The Massachusetts Legislature approved $20 million in forward-funding for the state's LIHEAP program, allowing it to start on time, November 1. The money is essentially a start-up loan with the state being reimbursed later through LIHEAP funds. Advocates from the state's community action association and the National Consumer Law Center are hoping to attain a supplemental appropriation of $20 million that will be added to federal funding to expand the program, i.e., increase households served or the benefit level.
Massachusetts House Ways and Means Chairman Brian Dempsey said the money for heating assistance was necessary to help families as soon as possible given the uncertainty of federal funding.
The $20 million for energy assistance was part of a $94 million spending bill that will also help provide lodging for about 2,000 homeless families.
Earlier this year, the Vermont Legislature approved $6 million to supplement the state's LIHEAP. In late October, the Vermont Emergency Board added an additional $2.7 million to that amount.
After the Emergency Board's decision, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin said his state's LIHEAP faces a potential 13 percent cut in federal funding. He hopes the program will be able to sustain its previous level of assistance with the additional state money, lower oil and propane prices, and more aggressive negotiations with fuel vendors.
"While everyone understands that Vermont, like other states, cannot make up for all of the federal cutbacks coming our way, keeping our needy neighbors from freezing in their homes in the winter has to be a priority," said Governor Shumlin.
Sources: Media reports, Vermont Governor's Office, Massachusetts Legislature