Struggling families urged to apply for heat assistance as pandemic surges, winter approaches

BOSTON — Action for Boston Community Development (ABCD) is urging senior citizens and families struggling during the coronavirus pandemic to apply for home heating fuel assistance as winter approaches.

Last year, the non-profit organization helped keep the heat on for 25,000 households in the Boston and Mystic Valley areas through the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which the agency administers.

But this year, the need is greater, ABCD said in a news release Monday. The pandemic has taken a devastating toll on countless families, particularly minority populations and those in low-income neighborhoods.

Hayat Smith, a single mother of three children, has turned to ABCD for help heating her home in past years. This year, when she called, her oil delivery was almost immediate.

“They said that I’m approved. I was crying of joy,” Smith said. “They [made] a huge difference in my life. And I am very grateful to that program.”

Money is especially tight for Smith lately because her work hours have been cut from 30 to 35, down to 10 per week.

Meanwhile, all three of her children are now learning remotely at home. While she would ordinarily keep her Malden home chilly when no one is home, she now needs to crank up the temperature for the kids the entire day.

“I had to put it at 62 [degrees], because the [oil] tank was going down, and I was thinking, ‘How am I going to fill up the tank? Because other bills are waiting,’” Smith said. “Before that, [my kids] were going to school, and I was putting the heat low. Now I have to put it on 70, and almost for 24 hours. So I needed more money to provide the fuel.”

ABCD pays the fuel vendor directly. Last year, the maximum benefit for each household was $1,140. Currently, the maximum benefit is $600, but that amount is expected to increase soon, as Massachusetts is receiving more LIHEAP funding this year from the federal Department of Health and Human Services, ABCD said.

Residents of Boston, Brookline, Newton, Malden, Medford, Everett, Melrose, Stoneham, Winchester and Woburn may be eligible for fuel assistance benefits through ABCD based on income qualifications.

To inquire about the program, call 617-357-6012, or visit bostonabcd.org/fuel-assistance.

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