Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Gasoline prices may be decreasing at the pumps, but the cost of home heating oil is still considerably higher than it was a year ago, leaving city officials concerned about how lower-income families will stay warm.

Last year Cambridge provided fuel assistance to 801 city families, according to assistant city manager for human services Ellen Semonoff, who is urging eligible people to sign up for assistance now if they think they might need it.

About $750,000 is budgeted for the program this year.

But with oil prices more than 20 cents a gallon higher than they were a year ago, and expected to rise even higher, the average benefit per household will not buy as much oil, Semonoff said Friday.

City officials are hoping this winter does not turn out to be an exceptionally cold one.

“We are keeping our fingers crossed,” Semonoff said.

Crude prices are more than

20 percent higher than a year ago, but analysts are divided on the question of whether they will continue to rise even higher this winter, according to Gulf Times, in Qatar, which said yesterday that 80 percent of the nation’s oil is consumed in the Northeast, and that America consumes 25 percent of the world’s oil.

Energy assistance funding is provided from the federal government to the states, which in turn fund area programs.

Most energy assistance programs are run by nonprofit agencies.

Cambridge is the only community in the commonwealth running an energy assistance program. The program serves Cambridge and Somerville. Last winter 2,300 households got some kind of assistance in the two cities.

The city began accepting applications for the program Nov. 1 and will continue taking applications through April 20. To be eligible for the program, people need to be making less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

For a family of four living in Cambridge, that’s into $38,600. The poverty level for one person is $9,310 a year. So anyone making more than twice that — $18,620 — would not be eligible for benefits.

This year the benefits per household are between $265 and $765, probably not enough to cover the cost of heating anyone’s home for the entire winter, given that people have to refill a 275-gallon tank several times throughout the winter. But there are other programs available, including Citizens Energy, which allows people to buy oil at a discount: 175 gallons at $1 a gallon. The program starts Dec. 1.

Last year, on top of the 801 Cambridge households that got fuel assistance, an additional 150 clients were able to buy fuel through Citizens Energy.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency provided an additional $9,500, which enabled Human Services to help another 35 families pay high fuel bills.

The city pays home heating oil vendors directly, but for people heating with natural gas, the city pays the families, so they in turn may pay off their natural gas bills.

Anyone already accepted to the Cambridge fuel assistance program does not need to go to the city in person to reapply.

New applicants, however, must contact the program, which is in the basement at 51 Inman St.

For people who are physically unable to get to the office on Inman Street, Semonoff said, someone from the city can make a house call.

For information, applicants may call (617) 349-6252.