A burning need

A week’s worth of freezing temperatures and forecasts for more brutally-cold weather this week underscore the need for a concerted effort to ensure all local residents in need of heating fuel assistance get help.

No one in Lynn or surrounding communities should have to start a new year deciding if a warm home needs to compete with prescriptions, food costs, and rent for part of a family’s budget. The Arctic temperatures are draining oil tanks and forcing people with limited incomes to decide if an essential expense like groceries or medicine needs to be reduced and deferred to keep their home heated.

Lynn Economic Opportunity (LEO) and other fuel assistance organizations stepped up when the weather was still warm to urge people to fill out assistance applications and publicized information on heating help.

A sure sign of how many people need assistance is the income guidelines that make families with incomes well in excess of $60,000 a year eligible for heating assistance. Nature has dealt a cruel hand to people with limited incomes by dropping a frozen spell into the first full month of winter instead of winter’s end.

People anxiously watching their oil tanks slowly drain are also trying to figure out how they will pay for heating almost into April.

Local, state, and federal officials and agencies coordinate efforts annually to ensure LEO and other assistance organizations get the money they need to meet heating needs deep into the winter. That coordination must be redoubled this winter to make sure no one falls through the cracks.

Supplemental heating appropriations, if necessary, should be debated and allocated and — if necessary — assistance organizations and their allies among other social service organizations must present a united front to constantly remind public officials and elected representatives that a need that may spell the differences between life and death must be met.

The push to ensure sufficient heating oil supplies for all homeowners and especially ones with limited incomes must be prioritized. Firefighters are already worried about people, desperate to heat their homes, who rely on stoves or space heaters for warmth.

The societal cost of people compromising nutrition or their health to warm their homes also has to be factored into the push to ensure homes stay warm this winter.

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