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LIHEAP to be funded at last year's levels

December 29, 2010
BERLIN After a letter writing campaign in the Capitol, the funding for the federal fuel assistance program, known as LIHEAP (low-income home energy assistance program), is to remain at last years levels of $5.1 billion, with New Hampshire receiving $34.9 million, according to Celeste Lovett, the fuel assistance program manager from the Office of Energy and Planning.

According to Kathy McCosh of Tri-County CAP in Berlin, this means that residents in Cos County who have not received benefits yet will now receive them. People who have already received assistance this year will not see an increase in their benefits. The benefits range from $120 to $975, depending on the household average income, with the average benefit being $500. The benefit from LIHEAP doesn't affect eligibility for other assistance programs.

McCosh said that if the funding is at last years levels, Tri-County CAP should be able to assist all the applicants. So far, there have been around 7,500 applicants in Cos, Carroll, and Grafton Counties.

Earlier this year, before the funding was restored to 2009 levels, the LIHEAP assistance was only guaranteed for the first 25,000 applicants in New Hampshire, even though 188,000 qualified statewide.

The income cap, which last year was $4,608 per month for a family of four will remain at the lower level of $3,625 per month for a family of four. That means that people who qualified for help last year may make, according to the federal government, too much money to get fuel assistance. Even with the increase in benefits, with this lower income cap on assistance, New Hampshire families may have to look elsewhere for help heating their homes this winter.

The Neighbor Helping Neighbor program is available to people who make too much money per month to qualify for LIHEAP assistance. The program allows "the public utilities commission to certify that utilities are participating in a financial assistance program that assists low-income households with utility bills. Upon certification, the utility pays 85 percent of the unclaimed funds into the fuel fund program, which is also certified by the commission." PSNH, the biggest utilities provider in New Hampshire, participates in the program.

Martin Lord Osman
Varney Smith
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