By John Toole
---- — New Hampshire officials are encouraging low-income families to apply for home fuel assistance, despite the federal government shutdown.
“At this time, the shutdown is not having an effect on the application process,” said Ryan Clouthier, energy director for Southern New Hampshire Services. “Keep applying right now.”
The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program assisted 15,902 households last year in Rockingham and Hillsborough counties, he said.
“This benefit is critical to these families,” Clouthier said.
Local administrators have been told by state officials there is some money from last year to help start this year’s aid.
“That might carry us for a little while,” Clouthier said.
But what’s troubling them is if the shutdown continues to December.
“We could be in a bit of a bind,” Clouthier said.
Rockingham Community Action administrator Patte Ardizzoni also appealed to residents of the Derry region to sign up for the aid.
The economy may be improving, but people still need the support, she said.
“They are no less in need,” Ardizzoni said.
The program truly makes a difference, relieving people of the anxiety over choosing among food, medicine and heat, she said.
It helps parents concentrate on parenting, too, she said.
“We see people feeling much more empowered,” Ardizzoni said.
The program helped nearly 700 families in the Derry area last year, she said.
U.S. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., were among 34 senators who last month asked Senate leaders to provide $3.46 billion for fuel aid assistance.
That would fund the program at 2012 levels. It is scheduled to be reduced to $2.82 billion this year.
The potential impact of the shutdown coming on top of across-the-board spending cuts affecting LIHEAP is a concern to Shaheen.
“LIHEAP is a critical program for low-income families in New Hampshire and the longer this shutdown lasts, the more families could be at risk of being left out in the cold this winter,” Shaheen said last week.
Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter, R-N.H., also is critical of the shutdown and across-the-board cuts from sequestration.
She has co-sponsored legislation to repeal and replace sequestration.
“In New Hampshire, this is not a partisan issue, people realize that LIHEAP is a critical program,” Shea-Porter said last week. “But when the Tea Party in the House and leaders like Paul Ryan talk about the shutdown, the sequester, or ‘slashing entitlements,’ what they are talking about is forcing our most vulnerable citizens out of programs like LIHEAP.”
The worries about heating aid comes with the U.S. Energy Information Administration forecasting some household expenses to be higher this winter.
The agency’s outlook projects average household bills to be 13 percent higher for natural gas and 9 percent higher for propane.
Electricity costs also are expected to go 2 percent higher, but heating oil could fall 2 percent, the agency said.
To apply for heating aid, people in Southern New Hampshire can call either the Derry office, 1-855-295-4105, or the Salem office, 1-800-939-9172.