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Surging home heating costs fuel concerns early in the season

BOSTON — Choosing between food, medicine, and heating your home is difficult in a normal year, but with this home heating season’s surging fuel prices, many in Massachusetts are struggling to an even greater degree to pay for heat.

“It’s just so expensive,” said Sydney Fuller-Jones, a government worker who spent most of the pandemic working 12-hour days or longer but may not have the financial resources to heat her second-floor Boston apartment.

Coming into the home heating season, the U.S. Energy and Information Administration (EIA) predicted customers nationwide would pay 43% more for heating oil than they did in 2020, 30% more for natural gas, and an additional 6% for electric heating.

In Massachusetts, heating oil is up 60% compared to last November, per state records, and the heating season just started.

“We bundle up, we blanket up, and we try to lose less heat,” Fuller-Jones said of herself, and two family members with whom she lives.

The federal government recently raised the home heating subsidy which translates to $1,030 for the heating season, up from $600.

Last year, ABCD, a nonprofit organization that connects people in need with heating assistance, among other programs, received 2,000 new applications for help, a spokesperson said.

“We’re still in the pandemic and there are still challenges and barriers to finding a job, getting a job (and) keeping a job,” said Kathy Tobin, Energy Director with ABCD in Boston.

Tobin says this season, it’s too early to know how many applicants will seek help.  The window to apply opened in early November.

To date, ABCD has received 12,032 applications and processed more than 25,000 applications last year.

There are income requirements to receive heating assistance but for those who qualify, there are additional programs including ones to repair older furnaces as well as discounted heating fuel rates.

Tobin is concerned about those who may qualify for some benefits but not enough to stay warm this winter.

“They slip through the cracks we call that the 60-80 because that’s right over the income eligibilities in order to get,” Tobin explained.

The bump in funding is not likely to make a large difference with natural gas prices in Massachusetts up 30% this past week.

“So even with the additional funding, far too many households will not be able to cover their heat this winter,” said a spokesperson with ABCD.

To save on home heating, ABCD recommends weatherizing your home, sealing it, and insulating it, repairing home heating systems for efficiency, turning down the heat slightly, and applying for heating assistance if you qualify for it.


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