Families left in the cold as fuel assistance benefits run out

BOSTON — Families living on tight budgets are facing another tough week with brutal wind chills and snow in the forecast. But some households across the state can't pay for home heating oil as their fuel assistance benefits run out.

Cynthia Lewis and her husband have lived in their 100-year-old Dorchester home since 1969. All four of their kids grew up here.

"When I came here, we used to buy heating oil at 32 cents a gallon," said Cynthia.

A lot has changed since then - including heating oil prices.

"I put it on 68 but I don't want to put it up too high because I don't want to run out," she said.

>> What happens when you can't afford to stay warm?

The 76-year-old retired from a local hospital in 2011 after 40 years. Her now 84-year-old husband was diagnosed with Parkinsons and Alzheimer's disease shortly afterward. Cynthia is his full-time caretaker and money is tight. Last month, she couldn't make the heating oil payment even with her fuel assistance benefit.

"I took my Sears credit card and give them $200 and then when I got my social security I give them another $275," she said.

Cynthia says their kids try to help out, but after paying for medication and the cost of oil to heat the old house, they barely have enough left for food.

The average cost to fill up an oil tank is $790. After filling up three to four times on average, it cost $3,000 to heat a home. The average benefit is $1,400 per year, maximum.

"I'm afraid people will die. Fire chiefs are all working with us because they're afraid of people using appliances," said John Drew, ABCD.

Activity for Boston Community Development - or ABCD - says Cynthia's household is one of more than 50,000 homes that rely on oil that have exhausted their heating benefit, literally leaving them out in the cold.

ABCD president John Drew is asking the state for help to extend the benefit and get families to spring.

"All I'm asking is to do it and do it quick," said Drew.

Boston 25 News has learned the legislature is taking up the issue Wednesday.

>> PREVIOUS: Higher heating costs making some reconsider turning heat on early