Baker under fire for holding back a portion of heating funding

The Baker administration served notice Friday that $11 million of the $30 million in newly allocated state home heating aid will be delivered and the news is not going over well. Describing himself as “quite upset,” Action for Boston Community Development President John Drew said the administration is “holding back” on $19 million in new state funds even though families are struggling with bills and facing shutoff notices.

“I’m totally frustrated with this,” Drew told the News Service. “This is not the way the world should run.”

In an email on Friday, Ed Kiely of the Department of Housing and Community Development said $11 million will be allocated to agencies for fiscal 2019, which ends June 30, and the remainder in fiscal 2020, which begins on July 1.

The law Baker signed allocating $30 million for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) includes a clause that says “any unexpended funds in this item shall not revert but shall be made available for the purpose of this item until June 30, 2020.”

Baker in January asked lawmakers to approve $11 million to offset federal reductions in LIHEAP funds.

After Drew made his frustration clear, House Speaker Robert DeLeo and House Ways and Means Chairman Aaron Michlewitz issued a statement backing him up. “On behalf of the House, we encourage the Baker Administration to release the full $30 million the Legislature appropriated, and the Governor signed, for LIHEAP. These are critically important funds to support some of the most vulnerable families in the Commonwealth,” DeLeo and Michlewitz said.

Joe Diamond, executive director of the Massachusetts Association for Community Action, urged the administration to reconsider and allocate the full $30 million. “That was the Legislature’s intention,” Diamond told the News Service, saying the full allotment is necessary to meet the need among low-income households.

In a letter to Baker on behalf of communication action groups, Diamond wrote, “The bottom line is that far less than half of the 160,000 households served with fuel assistance would benefit if only $11 million is distributed.”

“The poorest of the poor” - those earning 150 percent of the federal poverty level or less - would not receive any additional fuel assistance under the $11 million allocation, Diamond asserted.

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