Joe Kennedy III (center) urges President Joe Biden to set federal fuel assistance funding at $10 billion for FY2023. He is joined by (from left to right) Michael Kennedy, Citizens Energy Director of Business Development, Massachusetts Energy Marketers Association President Michael Ferrante, Action for Boston Community Development (ABCD) President and CEO Sharon Scott-Chandler, Citizens For Citizens Executive Director Liz Berube, Massachusetts Association for Community Action Executive Director Joe Diamond, and LIHEAP recipients Phillip Mayo and Valerie Saucer.

BOSTON ¬– Former U.S. Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III, the managing director at non-profit Citizens Energy Corp. in Boston, joined anti-poverty advocates and energy executives today to sign a letter urging President Biden to increase funding for federal fuel assistance to $10 billion for the next fiscal year.

The press conference was held at the Roxbury home of Phillip Mayo, a 75-year-old grandfather whose federal Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) benefit faces a cut as Congress proposes reducing the current funding level of $8.3 billion to $4 billion in 2023.

During his visit to Massachusetts last week, President Biden encouraged states to draw on LIHEAP resources to address extreme heat waves caused by climate change. The letter voices strong agreement with the need for immediate relief from dangerously high summer temperatures through such measures as cooling centers, the distribution of energy-efficient air conditioners and better insulation in the homes of low-income Americans. It also urges the White House to increase energy assistance overall so that low-income households are buffered from skyrocketing winter heating costs as well.

The other signatories of this letter include:

“We’re here today to thank President Biden for his commitment to combatting climate change and to his long record of advocating energy assistance boosts to the LIHEAP budget,” said Kennedy, who leads efforts at Citizens Energy to develop energy infrastructure projects to benefit marginalized communities and combat climate change. “We’re specifically asking him today to go beyond the $8 billion in last year’s budget and support a $10 billion funding level for LIHEAP. The value of every dollar of heating oil assistance erodes by 50% when prices double as they have this year. Just to keep pace with those increases, more resources are needed. And we know that cooling assistance is a need that is not going away as the earth heats up further.”

LIHEAP serves as a lifeline to about 5.2 million American households who are struggling to keep up with record energy prices. A gallon of heating oil cost $2.08 in October 2020. Today it can cost up to $7.60 in Massachusetts. Natural gas prices have almost doubled since the beginning of the year. That will have a profound impact on American households, half of which heat with gas. It is also driving up the cost of electric heating and electricity, which is largely generated in the U.S. by gas-fired power plants.

These skyrocketing prices come at a time when over 20 million families are behind on their utility bills, owing a collective $23 billion, up from $10.5 billion in 2019.

“For me, the difference between staying warm and going cold in my own home is the federal fuel assistance program,” said Phillip Mayo, a 75-year-old Roxbury native. “Anyone who has to watch their budget like I do will tell you that you look on with dread at news reports of the price of heating oil going up by 100% in just a few months. What that means is that if the fuel assistance budget doesn’t increase, the buying power of my benefit gets cut in half.”

The total average cost of energy to low-income households stood at $2,511 in 2019, rose to $3,399 in 2021 and is expected to reach $3,957 this year – nearly 60% higher than in 2019. This number not only includes the cost of staying warm each winter, but also the price of staying cool during record heat waves during the summer.

To combat the high temperatures that are occurring more frequently than ever before, Citizens Energy runs JOE-4-SUN, a low-income community solar program that provides about $300 in electricity savings to families in need each year. The program reduces the energy cost burden for income-eligible households while also making the green energy revolution accessible for all.

“Citizens Energy was founded by my uncle to make life’s basic needs more affordable,” said Michael Kennedy, the Director of business development at the Boston nonprofit. “As we face the defining crisis of our generation in climate change, we’re working hard to provide renewable solutions at affordable rates to our most vulnerable people. However, this is a group effort and we hope to more funds for cooling assistance from the federal government.”

“As New England’s largest community action agency, we’re on the ground every day working to ensure that our most vulnerable neighbors are warm in winter, cool in summer – and healthy and safe year-round.,” said ABCD President and CEO Sharon Scott-Chandler. “Extreme temperatures are increasingly the norm. When we all work together, we can help families contain costs and reduce their carbon footprint.”

“I’m so grateful for the LIHEAP program and the good folks at ABCD,” said LIHEAP homeowner Valerie Saucer. “They replaced an old, inefficient heating system, updating my oil tank, installed an air source heat pump, and did extensive weatherization. My house is now a cozy and efficient home!”

“The members of our association provide crucial heating oil and other services to tens of thousands of eligible fuel assistance households across the state, and with heating oil prices expected to be high again this coming season, these households desperately need additional financial support from the federal government,” said Michael Ferrante, President of the Massachusetts Energy Marketers Association.

“Community Action Agencies (CAAs) across the state provide fuel assistance to households in virtually every city and town that face cold winters and increasingly hot summers and struggle to cover their heating and cooling costs,” said MASSCAP Executive Director Joe Diamond. “The LIHEAP program is a critical economic support program that helps preserve health and safety by allowing the people we serve avoid having to make terrible choices between heating and other necessities of like such as food, or medicine, or clothing, or shelter. When combined with weatherization, which CAAs also provide, it offers the added benefit of the fuel assistance dollar going further and reducing carbon emissions.”

“My grandfather started delivering home heating oil door to door, family to family, in the 1930s,” said Eric Slifka, President and CEO of Global Partners. “Since that time, we have innovated to provide cleaner liquid renewable energy products that ensure families stay warm during the winter while not having to make costly replacements to their heating equipment. With energy costs continuing to rise across the board (electric, gas and oil heat), no family should have to choose between paying their energy bills or paying for other necessities such as food or medicine during dangerously cold days.”

“Previous oil price spikes were followed by modest price increases in all other goods and services,” said Energy Policy Research Foundation Trustee Larry Goldstein. “This time is different. Not only are households experiencing high energy prices, oil, gas and electricity but prices are increasing at record levels for almost everything else. From food, to rent and used cars. The CPI last month rose to a level of 9.1%.This has put an unprecedented burden on consumers in general but particularly low-income households.”

Read the signed letter below.