WASHINGTON – Maryland needs more than double the expected amount of federal energy assistance funding to help low-income citizens afford the projected skyrocketing cost of home heating prices this winter, according to a report released Thursday by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
The state’s home energy program would need $51.5 million more than the $34 million or so it expects from the federal government because heating prices may average 47.5 percent more this winter than last year — the steepest one-year increase since 1974.
“State officials haven’t caught on,” said Richard Kogan, co-author of the study. “They haven’t caught on to the magnitude of the problem — what it really means for households.”
Maryland’s Office of Home Energy Programs said it’s well aware of the problem.
“We know we’re going to need (more funding),” said Mary Lou Kueffer, director of Maryland’s energy program. “We have been all pushing to get a higher level.”
Kueffer has said that she worries about the program making it this year, especially if the winter grows harsh. But she also expected her budget to remain flat at about $34 million, even though she anticipates a 10 percent increase in applicants.
Last year, 83,000 recipients got help from Maryland’s Energy Assistance Program, a 5 percent increase from 2003.
While Kueffer acknowledged the need for more funding, she did not expect to receive the additional $51.5 million estimated by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Nationally, the nonprofit research group found that the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program would need $5.2 billion for 2006 — more than twice President Bush’s $2 billion request, which was submitted before the recent spike in energy prices.
Natural gas prices in the South Atlantic region, which includes Maryland, are expected to rise 45 percent, from $730 per household last winter to $1,060 this winter, said Neil Gamson, an economist with the Energy Information Administration.
The national average price for a gallon of residential heating oil is projected to jump nearly 36 percent from $1.54 in 2004 to $2.09 for 2005.
“It’s definitely on everybody’s lips,” Kueffer said. “If we have a very bad winter, that’s going to add another burden. It will be a challenge, but we have lot of people on board to look at the options. That’s the most encouraging thing about this. Our legislators are looking at and are concerned about how to fund these programs.”