With a little over two months left in the federal fuel assistance program that helps thousands of Charlestown residents heat their homes during the harsh winter months, federal fuel aid for this program has run out.
While the ABCD Fuel Assistance program the JFK Family Services Center in Charlestown continues to register families for this crucial winter program, ABCD President John Drew said the program is in crisis mode.
Drew said with home heating oil hovering around $4 per gallon all ABCD’s fuel assistance customers in Charlestown have used up their benefits for oil this year.
Last year, Drew got the state to kick in $21 million to make up for federal budget cuts to the fuel assistance program and is looking for the state to offer emergency funds again this winter.
“We have a lot of terrified people who can’t see how they are going to survive,” he said. “We ask the Governor and legislature to step up to the plate and help alleviate the massive suffering that is occurring right now.”
Drew called cold weather a killer.
“Every year there are frail seniors who succumb to hypothermia or people who die in house fires caused by using unsafe space heaters or cooking stoves to try and stay warm,” said Drew. “We have to provide protection for our most vulnerable seniors and young families.”
In October Drew called on Washington to fully fund the federal fuel assistance program at $5.1 billion to avert a “natural disaster” on par with the hurricanes and floods that have descended on the nation in recent months. Funding since 2010 has steadily declined from $5.1 billion to $3.47 billion last year.
Drew said that families in Charlestown who qualify for fuel assistance would most likely receive $750 but that number is $350 less than what the poorest families here need to heat their homes during the harsh New England winter.
He said while money for Fuel Assistance programs like the JFK Family Services Center will be more than last year there are more people in need for fuel assistance during this down economy.
The funding right now, said Drew, is totally inadequate.
Right now the program is funded at $2.9 billion which provides a maximum fuel aid benefit of approximately $750 for the poorest residents, while many who are just above the poverty level of $23,050 for a family of four receive much less.
“The maximum $750 benefit will provide less than one tank of oil at current prices,” Drew said. “Heating oil is at $4 a gallon, the highest we have ever seen it.”
ABCD Fuel Assistance program kicked off its 2012-13 season on November 1. Already 14,000 applications have been received. Last year the program received 22,146 applications, an increase of 10 percent from previous years.