December 1, 2022

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“It’s like living in an igloo.” People are turning off their heat as prices go up

"It's like living in an igloo."  People are turning off their heat as prices go up

As the first cold weather of fall sets in chilly in the Northeast, many people are faced with a difficult decision: Dealing with the rising costs of heating their homes or living without it.

Home heating prices are up again this winter, rising 18% nationwide on top of a sharp 17% rise last year, according to the National Energy Assistance Administrators Association (NEADA).

Charmaine Johnson works in the call center for Philadelphia’s Heater Hotline, which is part of a nonprofit that helps low-income families with their heating systems and bills. Johnson, 63, can relate to the concerns she hears about all day. She also struggles with her heating bills.

With the help of her son, Johnson just paid more than $1,000 to partially fill her oil tank, which she hopes will last most of the winter.

Johnson says she does not qualify for government assistance with her heating bills. As inflation also raises her food budget and other expenses, she builds up and keeps the heat down, hoping to stretch that oil out for as long as possible.

“It’s miserable,” she said. “It’s like living in an igloo.”

Several factors are driving up home heating prices, including the war in Ukraine, OPEC+ cuts, increased energy exports, declining energy inventories, and higher demand for natural gas in the U.S. electric power sector, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA).

EIA projects heating a home with natural gas will cost an additional 25% this winter, and heating with electricity will increase by 11%. The biggest hike will be in heating oil, which is expected to be 45% more expensive than last winter, with pressure on nearly 5 million households, mostly in the Northeast.

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Tim Wesley keeps the heat in his home outside of Philadelphia, even as temperatures drop toward freezing. He wants his heating oil to last as long as possible and the cost of filling his tank is about $1,500.

“It’s 50 or 55 degrees here. To me it wasn’t unbearable yet,” Wiseley said, adding that he would turn on the heat when his “teeth chattered.”

The 67-year-old is retired, living month to month on Social Security benefits. He lost his wife last year, and his medical bills add to the long list of expenses.

You can’t go buy food and get oil. He said.

Wiseley believes he will run out of heating oil sometime this winter. He is not sure what to do when that happens.

“It feels awful,” he said. “It’s a feeling I wouldn’t wish on anyone.”

This winter, the Biden administration is distributing $4.5 billion in federal aid to help families pay their heating bills.

The money for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, known as LIHEAP, stems from regular appropriations by Congress, additional emergency funding lawmakers included in the ongoing September resolution and $100 million from a bipartisan infrastructure bill passed last year, according to the Department of State. the health. and human services.

Annette Thomas, 53, and her husband received $500 from this program to help them heat their home near Philadelphia, said Annette. But it was only enough to fill about a third of the oil tank, which Thomas thinks will only last two to three weeks.

“That’s why we’re postponing,” she said. “We haven’t turned on the heat yet. And it’s cold now.”

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They are trying to pay the electricity bill in the coming days to avoid power outages. In addition, their bills and other expenses are high. So they use space heaters and electric blankets to keep warm, hoping to save heating oil for when their kids come home for Thanksgiving.

“These are not luxuries, they are necessities, and they are a struggle,” said Thomas. “So yeah, it’s annoying. It is.”