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More home heating help on the way as fuel prices soar

Published: Nov. 18, 2021 at 6:42 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 18, 2021 at 7:11 PM EST
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RUTLAND, Vt. (WCAX) - Some households will struggle to pay for fuel this winter but there’s more heating help on the way.

The traditional federal grant is about $21 million. With the additional funding from the American Rescue Plan, there is almost $50 million. That means eligible households will see a large increase in fuel assistance.

“People’s money has got to go a little farther this year. I’m hoping it stays at least level and doesn’t go too much higher,” said Brian Gecha, the owner of Gecha Fuels in Pittsford.

Gecha says this time last year home heating fuel cost $1.95 per gallon. This year it is up to $3.05.

“Business is crazy busy. All the trucks are ready, drivers are ready, this is it for us,” Gecha said.

Right now, it’s ramping up but it will get really busy in January and February.

The number of people who qualify for heating assistance in Vermont is based on the poverty level.

Nicole Tousignant at the Vermont Department for Children and Families says this year they are servicing about 600 more households, which means either more people have fallen below the poverty line or have decided to receive assistance.

“The average benefit has gone up significantly. Last year, it was about $1,000 and this year it is a little over $1,400 per household,” Tousignant said.

Year to date, 15,240 benefits have been processed for clients.

The average increase in Vermont is 42%.

Next door in New Hampshire, Gov. Chris Sununu is increasing their benefits by 60% for most recipients.

“The fuel assistance program is going to make a big difference to a lot of people, especially if prices are higher,” Gecha said.

Another program allocated through community action organizations-- Crisis Fuel Assistance-- has doubled its benefits.

Instead of two deliveries of 125 gallons of fuel, households will receive two deliveries of 250 gallons.

One cord of wood has become two, and one ton of pellets is now two tons.

Tom Donahue, the CEO of BROC Community Action in Rutland and Bennington counties, says for the past few weeks people have been calling expressing a need for fuel.

“We will keep them at the ready. I have staff also at the ready so the minute the program opens on the 29th at 8 a.m., we’ll be providing that assistance to them and get them taken care of,” Donahue said.

Gecha says that increase will make a huge difference for some households.

“Fuel assistance dropped in our account and we are actively delivering fuel assistance now,” he said.

Tousignant says she is not worried about the state running out of money with the increased benefits and more people receiving assistance.

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