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A proposed law would try to get heating assistance to Mainers more quickly

Maine's Low Income Heating Energy Assistance Program has millions of dollars in extra funding from the American Rescue Plan to help qualified Mainer's pay their heating bills this winter.

But bottlenecks in the application process have slowed the distribution of benefits. One lawmaker wants to help the Maine State Housing Authority, which manages LIHEAP, get benefits to residents in need sooner.

Rep. Raegan LaRochelle, of Augusta, says when she was campaigning for office, residents told her they were worried about paying their fuel bills. With record inflation straining budgets further, LaRochelle wants to help the Maine State Housing Authority streamline the Low Income Heating Energy Assistance Program and get benefits to residents in need sooner.

"Let's figure out how to solve it. The bottom line is we have funding and people need it and this should not be a barrier," LaRochelle says.

LaRochelle wants to give the housing authority a one time fund of $2 million to address any backlog of applications. She says solutions could be hiring temporary workers, getting an online application functional, and sharing data between state agencies to speed up the qualification process. The Labor and Housing Committee will hold a public hearing on the measure Tuesday.

The Maine State Housing Authority says it processes more than 50,000 applications a year and is distributing more than $700,000 of fuel aid a week. Director Dan Brennan says a digital application is a priority for the agency.