Skip Navigation
Regional News
Lorinda Bushey
Lorinda Bushey

Heating assistance cuts mean a tough winter in NY, VT

Listen to this story
The federal low income heating assistance program, commonly known as LIHEAP, has had a lot of ups and downs this year. Funding levels are lower than they've been in awhile. And there's more demand for services.

In New York state, this winter's average benefits for families are $500-700 lower than they were last year.

Sarah Harris reports from Vermont, where the state's Congressional delegation secured an additional $5 million to bolster the program. But even with that help, many Vermonters are still struggling to keep their heat on this winter.

Hear this

Download audio

Share this

Explore this

Reported by

Sarah Harris
Reporter and Producer

Lorinda Bushey can't just crank up the thermostat when it gets cold. Heating's not that easy.

"I've got it down to a science I have to run the heat so low so that we don't run out of fuel prematurely before the assistance stops. I work around my house in long johns and sweat shirts."

Bushey and her family of five live in St. Albans, Vermont. They've been on heating assistance since the 90s. They use gas heat and a couple of space heaters.

"The thermostat is either off or it never goes above 60 degrees. With my home and the way that it's laid out with five people in it, I use exactly five gallons of fuel a week and that's just for hot water and showers."

Five gallons of fuel a week isn't very much. But the heating assistance program doesn't have enough funding to supply people with an adequate amount of fuel for the whole winter.

Travis Poulin runs the heating assistance program at the Community Action office in St. Albans. He says this year has been the hardest yet.

"At the same time that prices of home heating fuel have steadily risen over the past three or four years, the amount of funding that's available from the federal government to help low income working families pay for heating fuel has gone down every year for the past three years."

And it's not just prices that are going up. This year, Travis said, there were more people applying and qualifying for heating assistance. Earlier this winter, the initial funding levels were so low that they couldn’t even pay for a minimum delivery of home heating for some Vermonters.

Poulin says the newest infusion of funds will help people get through the next few weeks or so. But it won't last the entire winter, or alleviate some big challenges.

"I think a lot of people make very difficult choices, choices that most of us would never want to have to make, around what bills to pay and what bills not to pay. And it gets very dangerous when folks think about ‘can I afford my medication co-pays or should I pay off my electric bill, can I afford to buy food or should I put money aside to try to save up to try to get a minimum delivery of home heating fuel.’"

Back at her home in St. Albans, Lorinda Bushey tells me she’s no stranger to these choices.  

"What goes through my head is when is this gonna end. You know, when is it gonna stop. When are people going to have to stop making these critical choices that so many people take for granted. It just really makes me sad inside. It makes it hard."

Lorinda tears up. She’s worried about how her family will make it through the rest of the winter.

"We're just struggling to make ends meet on a week-to-week basis and we live day to day."

Visitor comments


NCPR is supported by:

This is a Visitor-Supported website.