Advocacy Pays Off in Massachusetts

Posted by Charlie Harak on February 23, 2012
Advocacy Pays Off in Massachusetts
Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick.

On February 17, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick signed into Chapter 36 of the Acts of 2012. [Note: the final legislation has not yet been posted online, but will be available here shortly.]

Section 2A of that supplemental appropriation bill contains line item 7004-100, which includes $21,187,000 as a state supplement to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), a government program, also commonly referred to as fuel assistance, that's designed to help low-income families and individuals pay their heating bills during the winter.

This supplement is great news for Massachusetts, a state that serves approximately 200,000 households in LIHEAP. If distributed equally, it would result in an increase of $100 to each household for their LIHEAP benefits.  

The state is likely to soon announce, however, that it will provide slightly larger or smaller household benefits depending on whether homes are heating with gas, electricity, oil, or propane. Household benefit increases will be for those who heat with gas or electricity (about 60% of Massachusetts do so) and slightly smaller benefit increases for those who heat with oil or propane. This is due to the fact that so far this year, the state has provided much larger benefits to oil- and propane-heat households given the historically high price of home heating oil/propane and the moderating prices for natural gas.

The National Consumer Law Center, which I am a part of, worked closely with Mass Home Care Association and local community action agencies, to lead the advocacy effort to obtain this supplemental funding. We are particularly grateful to the strong support we received from State Senator Katherine Clark and Representatives Paul Donato and Paul Brodeur.

This was a difficult year to seek additional funding from the state as Massachusetts because, like so many other states, it’s facing difficult fiscal times. But our state received $50 million less from the federal government than last year for LIHEAP, and oil heat prices were at an all-time high. In part, our collective advocacy efforts made a real difference; in part, we were fortunate to find such great legislative champions to work with.


Charlie Harak is a staff attorney for the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC) in Boston, Massachusetts.

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