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“It’s like living in an igloo.” People turn off the heat as prices rise

As fall’s first frigid weather cools the Northeast, many people are faced with a tough decision: deal with the rising costs of heating their homes or go without.

Home heating prices are skyrocketing again this winter, up 1[ads1]8% nationwide on top of last year’s 17% peak, according to the National Energy Assistance Directors Association (NEADA).

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

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

Johnson says she doesn’t qualify for government assistance with her heating bills. As inflation also pushes up the food budget and other expenses, she pulls together and keeps the heat turned down, hoping to stretch the oil as long as possible.

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

Several factors are driving increases in home heating prices, including the war in Ukraine, OPEC+ cuts, an increase in energy exports, lower energy inventories and a high demand for natural gas in the US electric power sector, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA).

The EIA projects heating a home with natural gas will cost 25% more this winter, and heating with electric will cost 11% more. The steepest hike will be for heating oil, which is expected to be 45% more expensive than last winter, squeezing around 5 million households, most of them in the Northeast.

Tim Wiseley keeps the heat in his home outside of Philadelphia, even as the temperature drops toward freezing. He wants his heating oil to last as long as possible, and filling the tank costs about $1,500.

“It’s 50 or 55 degrees in here. For me, it’s not unbearable yet,” Wiseley said, adding that he’ll turn on the heat when his “teeth are chattering.”

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

“You can’t go grocery shopping and buy oil. It’s one or the other, he said.

Wiseley thinks he will run out of heating oil at some point this winter. He’s not sure what he’ll do when that happens.

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

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

Funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, known as LIHEAP, comes from regular appropriations from Congress, additional emergency funding lawmakers included in September’s continuing resolution and $100 million from the bipartisan infrastructure law that passed last year, according to the health department. and Human Services.

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

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

They are trying to pay off their electricity bill in the coming days to avoid a blackout. In addition, their other bills and expenses are way up. So they use space heaters and electric blankets to stay warm, hoping to save their heating oil for when their kids come home for Thanksgiving.

“These aren’t luxuries, they’re necessities, and it’s a struggle,” Thomas said. “So yes, it’s upsetting. It is.”

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