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Heating Assistance Cuts Hitting Mass. Families Hard

By David Wade, WBZ-TV
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(credit: Darren McCollester/Newsmakers)

(credit: Darren McCollester/Newsmakers)

Declare Your Curiosity
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BOSTON (CBS) — Some people call it a crisis in the making. This winter, it’s more than likely that there will be a lot less money to help people heat their homes.

Dave from Uxbridge is one person who’s worried.

He Declared His Curiosity, asking:

“Why the federal government is cutting fuel assistance to needy Massachusetts citizens?”

We found that it’s all about budget tightening.

“This house is part of us, this is our life. We’ve been here, we’ve had children here, grandchildren and now a great grandchild,” says Dave Trottier.

For 38 years, he and his wife Dorothy have lived in their Uxbridge home. For the last three years they’ve received about $800 to help pay for their heating oil, but recently they received a letter telling them they’d get less than half that, $365, this winter.

The Trottiers are one of about 200,000 Massachusetts households that received federal fuel assistance last year. “We have a very limited income,” says Dorothy Trottier. “I don’t work because I’m disabled and David’s retired,” she adds.

But this year Congress has allocated 40 percent fewer dollars for the program.

Massachusetts’ piece of that pie will probably drop from $197 million to $100 million. “What are these people going to do? End up living in shelters? Give up their homes because they can’t afford to live in them anymore?” asks Dorothy Trottier.

Last year the maximum amount of heating help a family in Massachusetts could get was around $1,000.

This year it’s $515. That cut comes at the same time that the number of families asking for help is going nowhere but up. “Across the state applications are up over 10 percent,” says Karen Frederick who heads MassCap, a group of community organizations that distribute the money.

Paul, a married father of three, recently became unable to work because of a health problem and came to a fuel assistance office in Lowell to apply for help. “We’re just going through some tough times, and this is the first time we’ve needed help,” he says.

With the shift in power to the Republicans in Washington, advocates worry that no additional dollars will be allocated. “We’re already seeing people who are making tough decisions about buying medicines, paying rent or their mortgage, or getting heat,” says MassCap’s Frederick.

Even though they know there are people worse off than they are, the Trottiers are worried and angry. “I would like to have some politician tell me…what are you saving and where is the saving going? Is this a political move?” asks Dave Trottier.

For thousands of people like the Trottiers, this could be a long winter indeed.

The final funding is still before Congress and advocates hope people will push their lawmakers to restore money for the program.

What about our state government? Last year Beacon Hill didn’t put any money towards fuel assistance, and with a large deficit looming, advocates aren’t optimistic about this year either.

For information about fuel assistance and whether you might be eligible go to: www.masscap.org.

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