Kuster vows to fight for increase in federal heating assistance funds
ATKINSON — For those state residents dependent on heating oil assistance programs, a combination of falling temperatures, multiple storms and lower federal funding for those programs has made staying warm even more difficult than normal.
On Tuesday morning, Congresswoman Annie Kuster met with officials from several local agencies to highlight the importance of the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and her efforts to increase funding for the program in the federal budget.
“I feel strongly about this program,” said Kuster. “Fuel is one of those things that people cannot go without, especially with the stretch of weather that we are having now.”
At the height of its funding in 2008, the state received over $50 million in fuel assistance funding and provided help to over 44,000 New Hampshire residents, according to Kuster.
Currently, those numbers are down to about $25 million in federal funds with the program assisting about 30,000 residents.
Kuster heard from several officials from local community action programs that help provide the LIHEAP funds for those who are in need and qualify.
In addition to providing fuel assistance, Patte Ardizzoni of the Rockingham Community Action program said it is often the first step for those in need to get help.
“Fuel assistance is the largest opportunity to capture individuals and families in crisis,” she said. That help can range from providing weatherization programs to help make homes more fuel efficient to providing meals on wheels services.
Derry resident Rich Murphy provided a first-hand account of the value of LIHEAP.
“My wife and I are disabled,” Murphy said. “We are proud to take advantage of the fuel and weatherization program through the state. We took advantage of the fuel assistance for $700, and that lasted for two months, and then we were able to pay for the next delivery.”
Celeste Lovett, the fuel program manager for the state’s energy department, said the cutting of LIHEAP funds since 2008 means there are families not getting help that would have been eligible years ago, and families that are eligible not getting as much help as they have in the past.
“Since 2011, we have lost a lot of households that never came back,” she said. “We’re just holding our breath and trying to get through the winter.”
Kuster said the federal government is entering a new budget cycle, with President Obama proposing flat funding of LIHEAP. The congresswoman said she is working with people who want to see the budget increased.
“This is an issue that can’t be ignored,” Kuster said. “This is a program that works ... I’ll be going to bat for increasing funding.”