Boston Herald, July 10, 2008: Govs seek winter fuel-aid hike

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By Jay Fitzgerald | Thursday, July 10, 2008 | | Business & Markets


Photo by Ted Fitzgerald

Gov. Deval Patrick and three other New England governors are pushing for a massive increase in federal fuel-assistance funds to avert what they say could be a crisis this winter due to skyrocketing home-heating prices.

Saying some residents will be choosing between buying food or fuel during the upcoming cold months, the governors plan to lobby Congress and even presidential candidates to boost fuel-assistance funding to $1 billion this year, up from last year۪s $252 million for the six-state region.

“All of us are concerned,” Patrick said as he emerged from a special meeting yesterday with the governors of Maine, New Hampshire and Rhode Island at the Federal Reserve building in Boston.

The conference was called by Maine Gov. John Baldacci, who said spiking energy prices have created an “urgent” problem for New Englanders who can۪t afford home-heating oil that۪s now averaging about $4.71 a gallon in Massachusetts. The price of heating oil has jumped by more than $2 since the winter peak season.

Noting it was unusual to talk about winter heating bills on a scorching July day, Baldacci said people in his state are “anxious” and “angry” at the mere thought of record high fuel bills next winter.

“I think it۪s potentially a crisis – and I don۪t use that word lightly,” added New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch.

This past winter, Massachusetts received about $114 million in federal fuel-assistance funds, with the state kicking in an extra $15 million.

But Patrick administration officials say their request for a big increase in funds is needed next year because demand among elderly and low-income people is expected to skyrocket next winter.

Patrick urged residents to get a home “energy audit” that can pinpoint ways to curb energy use via conservation.

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