JOHNSTON, RI -- Vladimir Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine is having a chilling effect in Rhode Island and across the globe: it’s causing the cost of heating homes worldwide to spike this winter.  And the problem is exacerbated by broken supply chains recovering from the shock of the pandemic; above average hot summer temperatures that had more people cranking up their air conditioning this past summer; and more exports of U.S. natural gas that caused natural gas prices to surge.  As a result, the National Energy Assistant Directors Association (NEADA) is forecasting that Americans will have to pay a lot more to heat their homes this winter.  NEADA says the average American household will have to spend $177 more to heat their home compared to last winter’s prices, with many New England households facing even steeper increases. 

While the Inflation Reduction Act will significantly help tame these sorts of price spikes in the future, U.S. Senator Jack Reed says Congress has an opportunity to deliver immediate relief to those in need, but Washington Republicans are opposing legislation that would help millions of people lower their home energy bills.  As Congress debates a spending bill to keep the federal government funded, Reed successfully included an extra $1 billion in emergency funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), despite objections from Congressional Republicans.  The U.S. Senate is scheduled to begin voting on the package later today.

“LIHEAP is one of the most critical programs we have to provide heating assistance to seniors and low-income families,” said Senator Reed. “With the increase in heating costs, we’re going to need more resources to provide the ability for these families and seniors to make it through the winter.”

Today, Senator Reed joined Tri-County Community Action Agency, LIHEAP customers, North Providence Mayor Charles A. Lombardi, and local home oil dealers to discuss efforts to help Rhode Islanders save on their energy bills and stretch their home-heating dollars.

Last year, between annual appropriations, the American Rescue Plan Act, and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, Senator Reed led successful efforts to provide a total of $8 billion for LIHEAP nationwide, resulting in $56 million for Rhode Island.

Nearly 26,000 Rhode Island households benefitted from LIHEAP last year, with the average annual LIHEAP benefit covering about $570 in winter home heating costs for Rhode Islanders.  Over 3,360 Rhode Island households also received LIHEAP crisis grants, which assist LIHEAP recipients when they have experienced a utility disconnection or are low on deliverable fuel and can’t afford to get another delivery.

Consumer groups note that to save on home heating bills this winter, people should plan and budget ahead and understand their fuel heating contracts: some customers may access discounts by pre-paying, spreading out payments over 12 months, or, if they use home heating oil delivery services, locking in a lower price and automatic delivery.

Outside energy experts say another way households can help lower energy bills is by unplugging electronics and appliances when they’re not in use.  The U.S. Department of Energy reports that so-called ‘standby power’ accounts for 5 to 10 percent of residential energy use.  And technology reviewer CNET reports that unplugging devices when not in use could save the average household up to $100 per year.  CNET cites a 2015 report by the Natural Resources Defense Council which found that reducing the load from always-on devices would save consumers a total of $8 billion annually and avoid using 64 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity per year.

But even the most frugal and energy conscious households will still feel the impact of surging home energy prices and Senator Reed says it is key that the federal government do its part to help keep people safe and blunt the impact of energy price shocks stemming from Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

“LIHEAP is a lifeline and we’ve got to ensure it’s there for people who need it.  I commend Tri-County Community Action Agency and others for connecting people to these critical resources.  We’ve got to help our neighbors in need and I will continue working to boost LIHEAP assistance so it keeps up with demand,” said Senator Reed.

Joseph R. DeSantis, President & CEO of Tri-County Community Action Agency, stated: “In this time of economic insecurity, it is critical that people get an application for LIHEAP submitted as soon as possible, so that we can ensure people receive this important benefit.”

LIHEAP is administered by states and accessed through local Community Action Agencies.  Eligibility for LIHEAP is based on income, family size, and the availability of resources.

Rhode Islanders can apply for LIHEAP by contacting their local Community Action Agency, or going to the Department of Human Services LIHEAP Resource Page.