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Mills administration says it will soon release plans for more heating assistance

Heating Fuel
Robert F. Bukaty
/
AP
In this Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2015 photo, Paul Dorion, a driver for the Downeast Energy, prepares to deliver heating oil to a home in Portland, Maine. New England, the region most reliant on heating oil, is getting a huge windfall this winter from the big drop in oil prices.

The administration of Gov. Janet Mills says it is close to finishing work on a proposal to help Mainers cover rising energy costs this winter.

A spokeswoman for Mills says the administration expects to release a proposal next week that aims to provide financial relief to middle- and lower-income households headed into winter. But first, the administration wants to hear from the state's Revenue Forecasting Committee about how much money could be available for a relief program.

Spokeswoman Lindsey Crete didn't share any specifics. But she says Mills plans to speak with Democratic and Republican legislative leaders to get their feedback before releasing a proposal for lawmakers to consider as soon as next month. Heating oil was averaging $5.71 a gallon statewide last week, which is nearing record territory in Maine.

At the same time, most Maine households will also see a substantial jump in their electricity bills next year under supply rates approved by state regulators.

"Broadly speaking, the proposal will aim to provide financial relief to help Maine people — particularly middle-class and low-income Maine people whose incomes are stretched thin right now — to deal with high energy prices to help them remain safe and secure in their homes this winter," Crete said in a statement.

Earlier this year, Mills worked with state lawmakers to send $850 inflation relief checks to more than 800,000 Maine taxpayers. That was months ago, however, and heating assistance programs throughout the state were reporting high demand even before the heating season began. Additionally, only a small portion of Maine residents qualify for many of those programs, such as the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP.

Maine is more reliant on heating oil than any other state in the nation, with roughly 60% of households using oil to stay warm. The price of kerosene — which many households with outdoor oil tanks rely on because kerosene is more resistant to extreme cold — was averaging $7.23 a gallon last week while propane was averaging $3.32 a gallon, according to figures compiled by the Governor's Energy Office.

Democratic and Republican leaders have said offering assistance to Maine families with heating and energy costs will be a top priority when the Legislature convenes for the session that starts on Dec. 7.