MANCHESTER, N.H. – U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) gathered at a senior citizens’ apartment complex with New Hampshire home heating oil company representatives and state government experts to discuss rising home heating prices and efforts to address the issue.
Shaheen’s primary hope for the roundtable, hosted by Southern New Hampshire Services, was discussing ways to get the word out about various tax credits, rebates and energy assistance programs available from the federal government, following increasing concern from constituents over whether they will be able to heat their homes this winter.
She added that the War in Ukraine and reduced oil drilling by OPEC have created global shocks to the global petroleum supply, also impacting prices.
Others at the round table, such as New Hampshire Office of Strategic Initiatives Fuel Assistance Program Administrator Eileen Smiglowski, have been hearing similar concerns from New Hampshire residents.
Smiglowski said that during a normal year, she would have received about 2,500 requests for fuel assistance at this point in the year, with another spike coming around the first cold snap. So far in 2022, she’s at 6,000.
That number could jump over 20,000 by the end of the year, and she’s not sure if her office can manage without additional assistance if the number rises above 32,000.
“There’s a real panic out there that I’ve never heard,” she said. “People were calling me in July asking me how they’d get through the winter.”
Shaheen said that $1 billion has been added to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program or LIHEAP as part of the continuing resolution by Congress keeping the federal government running until Dec. 16 among other recent additional LIHEAP appropriations, with hopes for more coming in future months.
In the meantime, members of the roundtable urged New Hampshire residents work proactively to seek ways to lower costs ranging from reaching out to heating oil companies ahead of time to avoid extra fees from refilling oil tanks after hours to looking for assistance programs energy provider as well as government entities.
Perhaps the largest obstacle to people taking advantage of these programs, such as an Eversource program that helps rate payers catch up on payments without service interruptions or bill spikes, is a feeling that the programs are a form of pity rather than something residents are entitled to through the money they have paid into these programs over the years.
New Hampshire Consumer Advocate Donald Kreis says these programs are much like Social Security in that they are a right for those who need them given the fact that we all have paid into them at some point.
“If you have to pick up the phone and call the utility and ask for help, you are asking for something you have been paying for, so it’s not charity, it’s a service,” he said. “I have that conversation with a lot of my clients where they come to us because of crisis; they’re about to be evicted, they’re about to have their utility shut off, but they feel shame for applying for this assistance program. And I tell them, ‘you’ve been a taxpayer all your life, you’ve been paying for these programs to be there.’”
Kreis, Shaheen and others felt that the long-term solution to price shocks such as the one that consumers are seeing this year is energy efficiency programs, such as home weatherization.
Kreis said that weatherization often impacts New Hampshire’s poorest residents the most since they often tend to live in less insulated older homes.
“It’s not sexy, right? Because a negawatt with an N is invisible while a megawatt with an M is visible. But this is how we save money,” he said. “This is how we achieve relief from these crushing energy burdens.”
In the handout assembled by Shaheen’s office, the following tax credits, rebates and support programs were mentioned. Additional resources can be found at nhsaves.com