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Heating Aid Needs Outstrip Funding

Record numbers of low-income people and senior citizens who can't afford to heat their homes are applying for help, say some local agencies that distribute aid and struggle with the recession's fallout.

"The overwhelming need we have (for heating aid) far surpasses any of our resources," says Dave Dexheimer of Douglass Community Services in Hannibal, Mo., which is getting 25% more calls than a year ago. It has $60,000 in state heating funds, down from $100,000 last year.

A drop in some fuel prices "is being canceled out by increasing numbers of families who are losing their jobs," says Mark Wolfe of the National Energy Assistance Directors' Association.

Funding for Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) is expected to be about $5.1 billion for fiscal year 2010 - the same as in 2009, Wolfe says. About 7.5 million people received the federal aid in fiscal year 2009.

The Department of Energy issues its winter fuels outlook Tuesday. It earlier projected price drops for most home heating fuels.

Elsewhere:

Oregon.@ After providing heating aid to a record 3,700 households in two counties in the last heating season, Oregon Coast Community Action expects a 30% increase, says energy services director Patricia Gouveia.

Maine. @Kennebec Valley Community Action Program has more than 5,000 applicants, up from 4,200 at this time in 2008. LIHEAP manager Kelly LaChance expects a record 12,000 applicants.

Pennsylvania.@ Applications in Cambria County are up 400% from this time in 2008, says emergency management director Ron Springer.

Illinois.@ Rockford energy director Mark Bixby expects a record 16,000 applicants. He worries he'll run out of money and cash-strapped governments won't have emergency funds.

"We're extremely nervous," he says.

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