Loss of fuel aid for needy to be restored by state

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(Host) The state will spend almost a million dollars to help low income people who were inadvertently cut from fuel assistance programs.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) Low-income people and their advocates were shocked to learn last month that up to 17-hundred people could lose their fuel assistance this winter.

The cut in fuel benefits came about because of a change in housing subsidies. People were supposed to get more help with housing, and then use that money to heat their homes.

But it didn’t work out as planned. The effect of the change was that many people ended up losing their fuel assistance, without getting a full year of additional housing funds to save for heating in the winter.

Now, most of the cut will be avoided.

(Dale) The number one goal is that nobody go cold.

(Dillon) Steve Dale is commissioner of the Department of Children and Families. He says the state is going back to an older formula to calculate fuel assistance for those in subsidized housing.

The state will also come up with about 900-thousand dollars to help those who lost their fuel aid.

(Dale) We will make sure that people receive, in essence, a full benefit through these various sources.

(Dillon) Advocates for low income people were pleased by the state’s response. Tim Searles is executive director of the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity.

(Searles) The state has been very responsive on this, once it came to light what had occurred.

(Dillon) Searles says the changes may not help everyone affected. And he remains concerned about what led to the cuts in the first place.

(Searles) This doesn’t go 100 percent all the way to getting all of these people back on these programs for this winter. But it goes most of the way there. It’s a good first step. I think ultimately the Legislature will decide – and should decide – whether or not people on subsidized housing should be categorically denied fuel assistance.

(Dillon) Commissioner Dale says he can’t provide an absolute guarantee that no one will see their benefits reduced. But he says the state is working hard to restore the money.

The extra funds will have to be approved by the Legislature in next year’s budget adjustment act.

Officials have also put together a public awareness campaign that tells people to make sure they plan ahead, and use their additional housing money to save for fuel next winter.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.




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