Families Get Help With Oil
by Scott Stafford
PITTSFIELD -- At 78 years old, with her husband in a nursing home and her own health brittle, Ethel Sayers had to take out a $3,000 loan to pay the cost of heating her Linden Street house this winter.
“By December, she’d used up $2,000 of it,” said her son, Ron Sayers of Pittsfield. “She had to pay $640 for December alone.”
Yesterday afternoon, Joseph P. Kennedy II pulled up to her driveway with a Sav-Mor truck full of Venezuela heating oil to fill up her tank.
As chairman of the Citizens Energy Corp., or CEC, Kennedy has been staging similar press events round Massachusetts to highlight the hard time that many people are having in the face of winter temperatures and soaring energy costs.
Venezuela has pledged 12 million gallons of oil at a 40 percent discount to the CED to help those in need stay warm this winter.
“Ethel is the kind of person we can help,” Kennedy said. “There are thousands of people across the commonwealth like this simply because our government is not willing to help the people that need it.”
The U.S. Senate turned aside efforts by Kennedy’s uncle, U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, to increase the federal allotment to the Low Income Heating Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, by $2.92 billion. The Bush administration set the funding at the same level as last year -- $81.8 million.
‘What do families do?’
“What you’ve got is a situation where the cost of oil had doubled in the last year lone,” Joe Kennedy said yesterday, as he stood next to the wheelchair-bound Ethel Sayers in her snow-covered front year. “So what do families do? They simply, in many cases, just go cold.”
The average statewide cist of heating oil is about $2.40 per gallon, according to CEC spokesman Brian O’Connor. By taking advantage of the discount, customers can save about $200 for 200 gallons of heating oil.
The discount is targeted to about 40,000 households across the state who receive help through LIHEAP but who have exhausted that aid. Families who are just outside the LIHEAP eligibility also can take advantage of CEC’s Oil Heat Program.
LIHEAP provides up to $527 for people who are at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty guideline. The federal government guidelines indicate that a family of four with an annual household income of $19,350 is at the poverty level. A family of four making $38,700 is at 200 percent of the poverty level.
Kennedy emphasized that the first priority is to see to it that households like Ethel Sayers’ can heat their homes this winter. As for the coming winters, Kennedy called on the federal government to help people with the cost of making their homes energy-efficient and to help pay the increasing cost of heating.
“The federal government has made billions of [tax] dollars just from the increase in the cost of fuel,” Kennedy noted. “But they’re not giving any of it back.”
Helping families pay for making their homes energy-efficient would save fuel and money and “lead to a construction boom in Massachusetts,” he said.
“What we need is the leadership. Where else are these families going to get the money to make their homes energy-efficient? It’s just a question of whether we have the leadership and the will do it,” Kennedy said.
He also called on the Bush administration to get aggressive in dealing with OPEC. “The price of oil is a politically set price by a cartel that would be illegal in most other countries. Our leadership needs to stand up to that. There seems to be a lack of will to take control of these issues and fight back.”