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Sanders seeks $1 billion in emergency home heating assistance

SHELBURNE Early in October, Shelburne Foodshelf coordinator Val Martel asked the public for help. The Foodshelfs fuel assistance funds were running dangerously low, and with winter on the horizon, residents were in dire need for aid with heating their homes. Help appears to be on the horizon, however, as Senator Bernie Sanders announced recently that he will introduce legislation to Congress that would provide $1 billion in emergency home heating assistance. Martel told the Times-Sentinel that she shared concern with Governor Jim Douglas, as funding programs throughout state and federal government were being cut. In November, President Bush demanded that Congress cut $379 million from the federal fuel assistance program that provides critical help for approximately 20,000 fixed- and low-income households throughout Vermont. This is an emergency. We ought to treat it like one. At a time when home heating oil prices are soaring, it is inconceivable that the president would even think of lowering assistance, said Sanders. Martel noted that the caseload throughout Shelburne and the surrounding towns is smaller than in the larger cities, but despite the smaller number of families in need, funds at the Foodshelf are still strained. We try to do everything we possibly can because our caseload is smaller than in the bigger cities, said Martel. But if you are working 40 to 45 hours a week on $10 an hour pay, and then you have a spouse and two kids to support, where does that leave money in your budget to pay for the fuel that heats your home? In a report filed by the Energy Information Administration, a typical Vermont household will need at least $1,000 to heat their homes for the winter, a 22 percent increase from last year. The EIA also noted that U.S. heating oil inventories were 25 percent below last years. No family should be forced to choose between heating their home and putting food on the table for their children, Sanders added. No senior citizen should have to decide between buying life-saving prescriptions and paying utility bills. In 2003, 4.6 million households sought out heating assistance. This year, that number is up to approximately 5.8 million -- a 26 percent increase. However, the federal government only increased its spending by 10 percent, so the number of households seeking assistance is outgrowing the available support by some 16 percent. The National Energy Assistance Directors Association said that states plan to reduce the number of households served by 15 percent, due to the absence of additional federal and supplemental state funding. According to the NEADA, this would cause a decline of 900,000 in the number of households served. On November 20, Sanders wrote to President Bush and urged him to release $20 million in contingency funds that would help low-income households to afford heat. If you would like to donate money to the fuel assistance program at the Shelburne Foodshelf, you can send checks to the Shelburne Town Clerk, Colleen Haag, at P.O. Box 88, or to Val Martel at P.O. Box 692, Burlington, VT 05402.

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