Committee supports Curry bill to help access heating assistance

Wed, 03/09/2022 - 7:30pm

AUGUSTA — A bill from Senator Chip Curry, D-Belfast, to reduce barriers Mainers face in accessing heating assistance received approval Tuesday from the Labor and Housing Committee.

LD 1966, “An Act To Facilitate Access to Heating Assistance,” received unanimous, bipartisan support from members present.

“Heating prices have skyrocketed this year. As more Mainers are reaching out for help, our systems aren’t keeping up. That means too many people are waiting months to get the relief they need and qualify for,” said Sen. Curry. “This bill may seem like a technical change, but it cuts unneeded red tape and gets government bureaucracy out of the way for Maine people. I thank the committee members for their incredibly strong support.”

LD 1966 would require the Maine State Housing Authority to adopt rules for the administration of its fuel assistance program that require local program operators and administrators — particularly the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or HEAP — to accept online applications. Local Community Action Programs administer applications for HEAP. The current process of applying for HEAP has created a bottleneck for applicants, with far too many Mainers waiting months to receive the assistance they need and qualify for. The committee amendment adds an emergency clause to the bill, meaning that it would go into effect immediately upon becoming law.

“HEAP is a complicated program based on federal rules. We are mandated to provide the greatest benefit to the poorest people with the highest heating cost burden. This makes HEAP more complicated than a typical low-income benefit. Changes like categorical eligibility and online applications will not be simple, nor will they be silver bullets, but they all should make a difference in this process,” said Erik Jorgensen with MaineHousing, in testimony supporting the bill.

Maine Community Action Partnership and Maine Equal Justice also testified in favor of the bill.

LD 1966 now faces votes before the Senate and House.