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State: Heating oil costs are down, but need for fuel assistance remains

Average heating oil prices are the lowest they've been in the state in four years.Erin Baldassari/Metro

The price of heating oil has plummeted, but the demand for government assistance to help state residents warm their homes is still great.

The average cost of heating oil in Massachusetts this week is $3.10 per gallon. Last winter, by comparison, the average cost was $3.96, the winter before that, $3.97. Oil hasn’t been this cheap since the winter of 2010-2011.

Even so, Kathy Tobin, the energy programs director for Action for Boston Community Development said her organization, which covers Brookline, Newton and Boston, received about the same number of applicants for fuel heating assistance as last year – around 20,000. Her organization approves around 18,000 to 19,000 applicants a year.

“It’s still a challenge,” said Tobin. “Electric rates are going up, food costs are going up and rents aren’t going down. It’s hard, especially for single parent families. It’s New England, after all, and it’s cold.”

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Matthew Sheaff, a spokesman for the state’s Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, concurred.

“Families are still taking advantage of the programs, so there’s definitely still a need,” he said.

The maximum amount of money someone who qualifies for the heating fuel assistance can receive is $1,075, which can pay for about a tank-and-a-half of oil. Depending on the harshness of the winter, local residents can go through three or four tanks a year. To qualify, household income must be 60 percent of the estimated state median income. This year, for a family of four, the median is $104,545.

“We’ll be able to help anyone who qualifies and walks through the door, the problem becomes we can’t sustain them,” said Tobin.

The funding comes from the federal government. The state received about $135 million for the heating subsidies, said Tobin. The federal government earmarks about $3.3 billion for heating assistance for the entire country, she said.

About 200,000 Massachusetts families will receive help paying their heating bills this winter, according to the state.

Average Winter Heating Fuel Costs in Massachusetts

2014-2015 -- $3.34 (per gallon)

2013-2014 -- $3.96

2012-2013 -- $3.97

2011-2012 -- $3.90

2010-2011 -- $3.22

2009-2010 -- $2.77

Heating Oil Costs In The State This Week

Average -- $3.10 (per gallon)

High -- $4.32

Low -- $2.37

Last week’s average: $3.13

Source: Mass. Department of Energy Resources

 
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