June 28, 2007
MASSACHUSETTS PROGRAM TO HELP SENIORS WITH THEIR ELECTRIC BILLS
By: Kevin E. McCarthy, Principal Analyst
You asked for a description of Massachusetts programs that help seniors pay their electric bills and how these programs are funded.
The only programs that we are aware of that specifically target the elderly are rate discounts offered by two of the state's municipal electric utilities. But Massachusetts, like Connecticut, has several programs that help low and moderate income customers of all ages pay their electric bills. These include the federally-funded Low-Income Heating Energy Assistance Program and the privately-funded Good Neighbor Fund. (The Connecticut equivalents of these programs are the Connecticut Energy Assistance Program and Operation Fuel.) Most electric utilities also provide rate discounts to low-income customers. In addition to these programs, by law electric companies cannot terminate service to a household where all of the members are 65 or older without the permission of the Department of Public Utilities.
ENERGY ASSISTANCE IN MASSACHUSETTS
Two municipal electric utilities offer rate discounts specifically targeted to seniors. The Littleton Electric Light Department waives the basic customer service charge for seniors age 62 and over and handicapped persons. Customers of the Middleborough Gas and Electric Department who are 60 and older can apply for a 5% senior discount.
Most Massachusetts electric companies and municipal electric utilities provide rate discounts for low income customers of all ages. The income limits range from 175% to 200% of the federal poverty level, depending on the utility. In addition, the customer must (1) receive means-tested assistance or (2) be eligible for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program. The discounts, which range from 20% to 42%, were negotiated during the past two decades and were required to continue under Massachusetts' restructuring legislation (http://www.ncat.org/liheap/dereg/states/massachusetts.htm).
Low Income Heating Energy Assistance Program
This federally funded program helps low-income households of all ages pay their winter heating bills. To be eligible, the household's income cannot exceed twice the federal poverty level. Thus, a three-person household is currently eligible if its household income is $33,200 or less. The current basic benefit for homeowners and tenants who do not live in subsidized housing ranges from $465 to $687, depending on the household's income.
Further information about this program is available at http://www.mass.gov/dhcd/components/cs/1PrgApps/LIHEAP/default.HTM.
Good Neighbor Fund
The private Good Neighbor Energy Fund provides energy assistance to residents in temporary crisis who are struggling to pay their energy bills but do not qualify for governmental energy assistance. To be eligible, a three-person household must have an income of between $33,200 and $45,650. Eligible households can receive up to $275 per heating season. The fund is a collaborative effort of the state's electric and gas energy companies and the Salvation Army. The program is funded by an optional “add-a-dollar” donation made by utility customers on their bills, matching grants by the utilities, and contributions to the Salvation Army.