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Cold Weather Drains Assistance Funds And Strains Fuel Deliveries

AP/Toby Talbot
Fuel assistance programs and fuel deliveries are being taxed by the cold, snowy weather.

Many families who qualify for help with their fuel bills have exhausted their benefits as a result of the cold weather. 

The state’s home heating assistance program helps more than 25,000 Vermont households stay warm in the winter.

“Folks are struggling to stay warm. Many folks have gone through their seasonal fuel benefit,” says Fuel Assistance Program Chief Richard Moffi.

Moffi says those who haven’t applied for seasonal heating assistance have until the end of February. He states that all who qualify will receive assistance, although the available money is running low. 

The assistance program is funded with $19 million in federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) funds and  $6 million of state money. The average benefit is $783.

Those who have depleted their benefits or haven’t applied for the seasonal assistance program can also apply for emergency fuel aid from local community action agencies.

But Moffi says that’s a one-time safety net.

“At this time folks have exhausted their one seasonal fuel grant and their one crisis grant,” he says.

The weather has also had an effect on those who sell heating oil. 

"Folks are struggling to stay warm. Many folks have gone through their seasonal fuel benefit." - Richard Moffi, fuel assistance program chief

Matt Cota of the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association says in many cases the snow has slowed the pace of deliveries as drivers deal with icy driveways and trudge through deep drifts to fill tanks.

“Your efficiency decreases as the roads get slick and as the snow piles up and of course as the demand increases,” says Cota. The state has granted a waiver lifting the limit on the number of hours delivery truck drivers can work.

John Quinney, general manger of the Energy Co-op of Vermont, says that’s helped. “We are pretty much keeping up with demand. We do that by working Saturdays when we need to and working longer hours during the week,” Quinney says.

Peter Jackman, with Jackman Home Heating Supply Company in Bristol, says there have been no delays in deliveries for his company’s customers. 

Jackman says he’s surprised how well customers have maintained driveways so fuel trucks can reach them.

According to the Fuel Dealers Association, based on the number of degree days, January was 11 percent colder than the 30 year average and the first 15 days of February were 39 percent colder.

Quinney says overall, though, his company has delivered about the same amount of heating oil this year as last year at this time. 

He points out that while January and February have been cold, milder weather earlier this winter has helped balance out consumption by his customers.

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