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Staff Provide Help with Winter Heating Costs

Wednesday, December 13, 2023
  • The City helps make sure eligible community members for the program know how to apply while working with utility companies to restore heat for clients.  


Every year, the Fuel Assistance Program helps more than 1,200 residents in Cambridge and Somerville pay their winter heating bills between November 1 and April 30. Most residents don’t think about heating bills until temperatures drop, but for the staff that helps manage this crucial service, planning for Fuel Assistance begins in the heat of the summer.  

“We begin outreach to existing clients in August,” says Claudia Cruz, the director of the Fuel Assistance Program (part of the City’s Department of Human Service Programs). This includes mailing over a thousand letters to the residents who participated in the program the prior year to encourage them to re-enroll. New clients can apply for the Fuel Assistance Program from October 1 through April 30.  

“We work closely with local agencies to make sure community members who are eligible for our program know how to apply and how to get in touch with us,” says Cruz. The program has Spanish speakers on staff and enlists translators for applicants who speak other languages.  

Households are eligible for Fuel Assistance if they meet federal income guidelines. “Many working families qualify for Fuel Assistance, but don’t realize it,” says Cruz, who encourages residents to check the income guidelines (updated annually) listed on the Fuel Assistance webpage. Undocumented people are eligible to apply if they live with at least one citizen.  

Funding for the program is determined annually at the federal level, which administers funds to the state. The state’s Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) distributes funding to local agencies monthly, based on the number of approved applications. Fuel Assistance and DHSP staff manage the monthly appropriation process to access the state funds. They also advocate for more funding, depending on the level of community need.  

Cruz and her team of three full-time staff members process hundreds of applications each month, which are reviewed according to the date received. If an applicant is eligible, they are approved for a benefit amount based on their income. This is the total amount of assistance that a client will receive toward heating costs incurred between November 1 and April 30. Staff work directly with the client’s utility or oil company to have the benefit amount reflected in their billing (it appears as “LIHEAP Payment” on bills).  

If a client receives a benefit amount that partially covers their heating bills, the Fuel Assistance Program staff can refer them to other agencies for further assistance. The team also helps when people face heating emergencies. If a client does not have heat, receives a 72-hour shut-off notice, or has less than 1/8 of a tank of oil, Fuel Assistance staff can provide same-day assistance.  

“We try our best to help everyone in need, whether that is paying winter heating bills, working with a utility company to get a client’s heat restored, or connecting a client to other local and state energy programs that can help them save money,” says Cruz.  

The commitment to helping the community doesn’t end with the winter season. Beginning in February, Cruz and her team start planning to operate the annual Summer Food Program, which provides free breakfast, lunch, and dinner meals to Cambridge residents ages 18 and younger.  

Apply to the Fuel Assistance Program through April 30 at www.cambridgema.gov/FuelAssistance.  

" We try our best to help everyone in need, whether that is paying winter heating bills, working with a utility company to get a client’s heat restored, or connecting a client to other local and state energy programs that can help them save money. "
Fuel Assistance Flyer
Winter Heating Costs
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