Heating assistance increases for 20,000

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MONTPELIER — Low-income Vermonters who get state subsidies to pay for heat will see an increase in benefits this winter.

The Agency of Human Services and Department for Children and Families announced the increased benefits under the Low-Income Heating Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, on Tuesday.

The average benefit to the roughly 20,000 households that use the program will be $879 for winter 2017-18, an increase from $831 in winter 2016-17, according to the Agency of Human Services.

"This program helps low-income Vermonters, especially seniors, people with disabilities and families with children, to stay warm during the winter months," Al Gobeille, the secretary of the Agency of Human Services, said in a statement. "This assistance is critical to their health and well-being."

The federal government provides most of the money for LIHEAP, and the state of Vermont appropriates additional money, according to Sean Brown, the deputy commissioner of the Department for Children and Families.

Both of those funding sources have stayed mostly stable, Brown said. The households are seeing the increased benefits in part because the LIHEAP caseload is down, and in part because fuel prices are stabilizing, so the money can be stretched further, he said.

In 2013, about 28,000 households in Vermont relied on LIHEAP, according to Brown, compared to about 20,000 in 2017. That's a decrease of more than one-quarter. ReachUp, which provides cash assistance to low-income families, has seen similar caseload decreases.

"This is good news for Vermonters who need the (LIHEAP) program to help meet their heating needs that we're able to increase the benefit and the purchasing power," Brown said. He said the benefit increase "allows them to stretch their budget to other areas."

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