As the first frosty weather of fall chills the Northeast, many people are faced with a tough decision: face soaring home heating costs or live without it.
According to the National Energy Assistance Directors Association (NEADA), home heating prices are still skyrocketing this winter, up 18% nationally from last year’s 17% peak.
Charmaine Johnson works at the Philadelphia Heater Hotline call center, part of a nonprofit that helps low-income families with their heating systems and bills. Johnson, 63, can relate to the concerns she hears every day. She too is struggling to pay her heating bills.
With the help of her son, Johnson just paid over $1,000 to fill part of her oil tank, which she hopes will last her most of the winter.
Johnson says she is not eligible for government assistance for her heating bills. As inflation also drives up her food budget and other expenses, she regroups and keeps the heat down, hoping to stretch that oil as long as possible.
“It’s miserable,” she said. “It’s like living in an igloo.”
Several factors are driving home heating price increases, including the war in Ukraine, OPEC+ cuts, rising energy exports, falling energy inventories, and strong demand for natural gas in the sector. American electricity company, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA).
EIA projects to heat a home with natural gas will cost 25% more this winter, and heating with electricity will cost 11% more. The biggest rise will be for fuel oil, which is expected to be 45% more expensive than last winter, crushing around 5 million households, mostly in the northeast.
Tim Wiseley is keeping the heat on at his home outside of Philadelphia, even as temperatures dip toward freezing. He wants his oil to last as long as possible and filling his tank costs around $1,500.
“It’s 50 or 55 degrees here, gentlemen. For me, it’s not unbearable yet,” Wiseley said, adding that he would turn on the heater when his “teeth chatter”.
The 67-year-old is retired and lives monthly on social security benefits. He lost his wife last year and his medical bills add to the long list of expenses.
“You can’t shop and buy oil. It’s one or the other,” he said.
Wiseley thinks he will run out of fuel oil at some point this winter. He’s not sure what he’ll do when it happens.
“It’s a horrible feeling,” he said. “It’s a feeling I wouldn’t wish on anyone.”
This winter, the Biden administration is doling out $4.5 billion in federal aid to help families pay their heating bills.
Funds for the low-income home energy assistance program, known as LIHEAP, come from regular appropriations from Congress, additional emergency funding lawmakers included in the September continuing resolution, and $100 million. dollars from the bipartisan infrastructure law passed last year, according to the Department of Health. and Human Services.
Annette Thomas, 53, and her husband received $500 from the program to help heat their home near Philadelphia, she said. But that was only enough to fill about a third of their oil tank, which Thomas says will only last two to three weeks.
“That’s why we’re waiting,” she said. “We haven’t turned on our heating yet. And it’s cold now.”
They are trying to pay their electricity bill in the next few days to avoid a blackout. Plus, their other bills and expenses are on the rise. So they use space heaters and electric blankets to stay warm, hoping to save their fuel oil for when their children return for Thanksgiving.
“These aren’t luxuries, they’re necessities, and it’s a struggle,” Thomas said. “So yeah, it’s upsetting. He is.”