Markey mobilizes public for new home energy assistance bill

CHICOPEE, Mass. (WWLP) – Sen. Ed Markey is trying to drum up support for his Home Energy Assistance bill by reaching out to the public with a series of virtual roundtables across the state to discuss his new legislation, the Heating and Cooling Relief Act.

On Thursday, Markey met via ZOOM with State Senator Adam Gomez, State Representatives Orlando Ramos, Brian Ashe and Jake Oliveira, Director of Advancement with Partners for Community/New England Farm Workers Council (NEFWC) Andrew Melendez, and a NEFWC constituent and LIHEAP recipient. They discussed issues surrounding “fuel poverty,” including how low-income individuals and families often have to choose between paying their bills or buying food, medicine and other basic necessities. According to Markey, only 16% of those eligible for heating assistance receive it.

“A recent study found that residential consumers in Massachusetts owed a total of $675 million in unpaid electric and gas bills at the end of December 2021,” Markey said.

The bill would expand the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, also known as LIHEAP, a program that helps seniors and low-income households pay their energy bills . It would also provide more consumer protections. Massachusetts will receive $307.5 million for LIHEAP for fiscal year 2022, reflecting an appropriation of $120.5 million and an additional $187.1 million in U.S. bailout funds. A copy of the text of the bill can be found HERE.

the the deed would include:

  • Increases annual LIHEAP funding to $40 billion and expands eligibility to ensure no household pays more than three percent of its annual income on energy costs;
  • Minimizes barriers to administering and applying LIHEAP by allowing households to self-certify eligibility criteria; increases the administrative cap for outreach, technology, and staffing purposes; and ensure that LIHEAP coordinators receive at least a decent salary;
  • Protects consumers by ensuring that no eligible household has their utilities cut off or pays late fees, that every household receiving funds can have their utility debt forgiven, and that utility companies implement puts in place reduced payment plans to support consumers and must not pay more than 3% of income for energy costs;
  • Ensure states can use LIHEAP to address climate adaptation by increasing funding for cooling assistance and ensuring households can access utility assistance during major disasters; and
  • Increases funding made available for weatherization through LIHEAP and establishes a new Just Transition Grant for states and localities to help reduce energy loads for LIHEAP-eligible households and promote use renewable energies.

There will be two more of these discussions on Friday, January 21:

PITTSFIELD: 1:00 p.m.– with Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer, State Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier and Deborah Leonczyk, executive director of the Berkshire Community Action Council.

CAPE COD AND PLYMOUTH: 4:00 PM— with State Senator Susan Moran, State Representative Sarah Peake and Lisa Spencer, deputy director of the South Shore Community Action Council.

You can RSVP to [email protected] for the Zoom link.

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