By Christopher Baxter, Globe Correspondent
A delegation of New England lawmakers concerned by skyrocketing energy costs wants a major increase in home heating oil assistance from the federal government this winter.
In a letter sent yesterday to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, the legislators requested as much as $9 billion in aid and an expansion of eligibility requirements for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. Congress approved about $2.6 billion in home heating assistance last year.
"All of this is going to absolutely be needed for this winter," said US Representative Edward J. Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts. "I think as each day goes by and people realize what a catastrophe this winter is going to be for low-income families, it increases the likelihood that we can get a much larger number of dollars than we ever have in history."
The lawmakers also called for at least $1 billion in aid for the Weatherization Assistance Program, meant to help homeowners better insulate their homes and save money. They asked for the provisions to be included in legislation or part of a second economic stimulus package.
Home heating oil is expected to cost as much as $5 per gallon this winter, or about $1,400 per tank, said Robert M. Coard, president and chief executive officer of Action for Boston Community Development Inc. Without additional federal aid, the poorest families will receive an estimated $503 in aid this year, Coard said, down from $1,165 last winter.
"Many of them have fixed incomes or incomes that rise very slowly and very slightly," Coard said. "The only way to help them out is by increasing the amount of money they get as a subsidy for heat and particularly oil. We've been losing that battle every year for years."
Last week, four New England governors asked the federal government to increase the region's home heating aid to $1 billion, from $252 million last winter.
Massachusetts received $115 million of such aid last year and contributed another $15 million on its own, said Lisa Capone, a spokeswoman for the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. The state expects $80 million from the federal government this winter, Capone said.
Christopher Baxter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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