A scramble for funding to help people struggling to stay warm this winter

BOSTON — When temperatures drop, heating bills can start to pile up for families across Massachusetts. Community advocacy groups say with pandemic unemployment and economic rollbacks, the number of people needing help to heat their homes this winter could soar.

They told Boston 25 News anchor Kerry Kavanaugh, there is now a scramble for funding happening right now to make sure everyone gets the help they need.

“This is about life and death this winter as much now as ever before,” said John Drew is president of the community action group, Action for Boston Community Development. Drew recently took part in a virtual roundtable to discuss the need he’s seeing on many fronts and he painted a grim picture.

“Our fellow Americans, our fellow human beings are suffering,” Drew said. “Now is not the time to pull punches. Now is not the time to go low. We really need a huge federal intervention.”

For months Boston 25 News has documented the long lines outside food pantries. We have reported on the growing eviction crisis. Now, more people are struggling to heat their homes.

ABCD told Kavanaugh their heating assistance program opened in November and they have about 15,000 applications already. The organization fears many people will exhaust their entire benefit long before the winter is over.

“It’s really hard now not working to really cope,” said Dulciana Coleman of Dorchester. Coleman, 75, has been struggling to cope since she was laid off from her job at the beginning of the pandemic in March. She says she worked as a housekeeper at the Ritz Carlton for 24 years.

“I’m struggling very hard especially in my mortgage,” she said. “The oil is expensive. And I heat with oil.” So, she says the winter season is bringing on more bills.

“We need to make sure that money is available so that no, no one who is poor in our state or our country has to turn the heat off this winter,” said Senator Ed Markey, (D) Massachusetts.

Markey noted Massachusetts has a moratorium on shutoffs until April 1. But he says that’s a temporary solution, and the debt doesn’t go away. Markey has been asking Congress for an additional $10 billion dollars for LIHEAP, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

That request did not make it into the COVID-19 rescue package.

“More people are more desperate than ever before. More people have run out of money than ever before,” Markey said.

They are people like Dulciana Coleman.

“Hopefully next year, God will pull us through and that we can make a turn back on our feet again,” Coleman says she is working with ABCD to get the help she needs this winter.

Nationally, advocates estimate an additional $5 million people will need help to stay warm this winter.

ABCD is urging people in need to sign up for help as soon as possible. The organization does have a fuel assistance fund. For information on how you can donate to click here.

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