CHICOPEE, Mass. (WWLP) – Senator Ed Markey is trying to get support for his home energy assistance bill by reaching out to the public with a series of virtual round table discussions across the state to discuss his new legislation, the Heating and Cooling Relief Act.

On Thursday, Markey met via ZOOM with State Senator Adam Gomez, State Representatives Orlando Ramos, Brian Ashe and Jake Oliveira, Chief Advancement Officer with Partners for Community / New England Farm Workers Council (NEFWC) Andrew Melendez, and a NEFWC constituent and LIHEAP recipient. They discussed the issues surrounding “energy poverty,” including how low income individuals and families oftentimes have to choose between paying bills or buying food, medicines and other necessities. According to Markey, only 16% of people eligible for heating assistance get benefits.

“A recent study found that Massachusetts residential consumers owed a total of $675-million in unpaid electric and gas bills at the end of December of 2021,” said Markey.

The bill would expand the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, also known as LIHEAP, a program that helps seniors and low income households with energy bills. It would also provide more consumer protections. Massachusetts will receive $307.5 million for LIHEAP for the 2022 fiscal year, which reflects an appropriation of $120.5 million and an additional $187.1 million in funds from the American Rescue Plan. A copy of the bill text can be found HERE.

The act would include:

  • Increases in annual funding for LIHEAP to $40 billion and expands eligibility to ensure that no household pays more than three percent of its annual income on energy costs;
  • Minimizes the barriers to administering and applying LIHEAP by allowing households to self-attest to eligibility criteria; increases the administrative cap for outreach, technological, and staffing purposes; and ensures LIHEAP coordinators are paid at least a living wage;
  • Protects consumers by ensuring that no eligible household has its utilities shutoff or pays late fees, that every household receiving funds can have its utility debt cleared, and that utility companies set up discounted payment plans to support consumers, and should not pay more than 3% of income for energy costs;
  • Ensures states can use LIHEAP to address climate adaptation by increasing funding for cooling assistance and ensuring households can access utility assistance during major disasters; and
  • Increases funding made available for weatherization through LIHEAP, and establishes a new Just Transition Grant for states and localities to help reduce energy burdens for LIHEAP-eligible households and promote renewable energy usage.

There will be two more of these discussions on Friday, January 21:

PITTSFIELD: 1:00 PM– with Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer, State Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier, and Deborah Leonczyk, Berkshire Community Action Council Executive Director.

CAPE COD & PLYMOUTH: 4:00 PM– with State Senator Susan Moran, State Representative Sarah Peake, and Lisa Spencer, the Deputy Director of South Shore Community Action Council.