MONTPELIER, Vt. — When Carol Shepard learned that she would get just $319 in home heating assistance — $500 less than last year — she broke down and cried, wondering how she and her 83-year-old aunt would stay warm this winter in the home they share in South Royalton.
Last year, the 60-year-old, who is disabled from a stroke, received $888 from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, known as LIHEAP. Federal cuts have reduced the average share this year in Vermont from $866 to $750.
On Tuesday, the governor and legislative leaders said the state would add $6.1 million in reserve funding to the program to make up for the shortfall.
"There is bipartisan consensus that the state of Vermont is too good, too decent and too caring to let any Vermonter freeze in their home this winter," said Gov. Peter Shumlin.
Vermont will get $8 million less in federal funding for the program which provides heating assistance for low-income, elderly and disabled residents. Last winter, the state received $27.6 million. This winter it will get $19.5 million.
"Without additional assistance, many Vermont seniors faced having to choose between paying for medicine, food and heat this winter," said Ken Gordon of VT Association of Area Agencies on Aging. "These additional funds will make a critical difference to those individuals and families who rely upon this program to survive our long and cold winter months."
Most of the money — $5.1 million — will come from funds the Legislature set aside in anticipation of federal cuts to a broad range of programs. Another $1 million will come from year-end carry-over money from the weatherization program, Shumlin said.
But Shumlin said the state can't fill all the gaps in funding as the federal government cuts spending. He directed the commissioner of the Department of Children and Families and the fuel assistance office to consider how to make the LIHEAP program sustainable by looking at eligibility, how the state pays fuel dealers, and other possible sources of revenue.
The state will report back to the administration and Legislature with suggestions by the end of the 2012 legislative session.