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The Vermont Statutes Online

 

Title 33: Human Services

Chapter 026: HOME HEATING FUEL ASSISTANCE

  • § 2601. Policy and purpose

    (a) It is the purpose of this chapter to secure the safety and health of low income Vermont households by providing needy Vermonters with assistance for the purchase of essential home heating fuel. To further this purpose, application acceptance, processing, and eligibility determination should as much as is practical be coordinated with other economic benefit programs administered by the Agency of Human Services.

    (b) This chapter establishes a Home Heating Fuel Assistance Program in the Agency of Human Services with both a seasonal fuel assistance component and a crisis component. (Added 1995, No. 158 (Adj. Sess.), § 1, eff. May 10, 1996; amended 2009, No. 88 (Adj. Sess.), § 1, eff. April 29, 2010.)

  • § 2601a. Definitions

    As used in this chapter:

    (1) "Household" means any individual or group of individuals who live together as one economic unit:

    (A) for whom energy for home heating fuel is customarily purchased in common; or

    (B) who make undesignated payments for energy for home heat in the form of rent.

    (2) The following individuals are members of the same household based on their being legally responsible for the financial support of the applicant or recipient or another member of the household:

    (A) an individual residing in the dwelling unit who is the husband, wife, or civil union partner, or minor daughter or son of the applicant or recipient;

    (B) an individual residing in the dwelling unit who is the parent of any minor daughter or son included in the household, any minor daughter or son of such parent not already included in the household, the husband, wife, or civil union partner, of any minor included in the household, or the minor daughter or son of any minor included in the household.

    (3) The following individuals shall be presumed to be members of the same household, unless the applicant or recipient provides to the Office of Home Heating Fuel Assistance reasonable evidence that such individuals are not members of the same household economic unit:

    (A) An individual residing in the dwelling unit who is related by blood, civil marriage, or adoption to another resident of the dwelling unit and has not been included in the household in accordance with the provisions of subdivision (2) of this section. Such relationships include the relationship of the adult applicant or adult recipient to his or her father, mother, grandmother, grandfather, adult son, adult daughter, grandson, granddaughter, brother, sister, stepfather, stepmother, stepbrother, or stepsister.

    (B) An unrelated individual residing in the dwelling unit who does not pay reasonable compensation to rent one or more rooms as separate living quarters, or who does not make reasonable compensation in the form of caretaker or companionship services in the case of an applicant or recipient who is 60 years of age or older or disabled.

    (4) The following individuals shall be presumed not to be members of the same household, provided that the applicant or recipient provides to the Office of Home Heating Fuel Assistance reasonable evidence that such individuals meet the following standards for exclusion from the economic unit:

    (A) individuals in the custody of and placed in foster care by the Department for Children and Families, and individuals placed in a home by or through a program administered by the Department of Health or of Disabilities, Aging, and Independent Living;

    (B) individuals providing medically necessary personal care or homemaker services to a member of the household who is 60 years of age or older or disabled. (Added 1999, No. 59, § 1, eff. June 1, 1999; amended 2005, No. 174 (Adj. Sess.), § 108; 2007, No. 172 (Adj. Sess.), § 12; 2009, No. 3, § 12a, eff. Sept. 1, 2009; 2021, No. 20, § 315.)

  • § 2602. Administration

    (a) The Agency of Human Services shall administer the Home Heating Fuel Assistance Program through an Office of Home Heating Fuel Assistance to be assigned within the Agency as determined by the Secretary, and to be headed by a Director appointed by the Secretary.

    (b) The Secretary of Human Services shall adopt rules, pursuant to 3 V.S.A. chapter 25, necessary for the implementation of this chapter, or pursuant to any applicable federal laws or regulations.

    (c) The Secretary shall engage in cost-effective purchasing practices to maximize the purchasing power of public funds used in connection with the Home Heating Fuel Assistance Program. Such practices shall include preseason purchases of fuel, fixed price agreements, automatic fuel delivery, and negotiations with fuel suppliers on behalf of Program beneficiaries for additional fuel price discounts. The practices authorized by this subsection shall be used in connection with all applicable fuels purchased by Program beneficiaries. The Secretary shall make available to Program recipients the list of fuel suppliers who have agreed to provide fuel discounts.

    (d) [Repealed.]  (Added 1995, No. 158 (Adj. Sess.), § 1, eff. May 10, 1996; amended 2001, No. 63, § 129a, eff. June 16, 2001; 2005, No. 93 (Adj. Sess.), § 38, eff. March 3, 2006; 2007, No. 172 (Adj. Sess.), § 13; 2013, No. 50, § E.324.4, eff. July 2, 2013; 2013, No. 89, § 17; 2017, No. 3, § 65, eff. March 2, 2017.)

  • § 2602a. Office of Home Energy Assistance

    (a) There is created an Office of Home Energy Assistance to be assigned to a department within the Agency of Human Services as designated by the Secretary, and to be headed by a director appointed by the Secretary.

    (b) The responsibilities of the Office of Home Energy Assistance shall include:

    (1) administering the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), 42 U.S.C. § 8621 et seq., and coordinating it with other related heating and weatherization programs;

    (2) developing and recommending policy changes for the Secretary;

    (3) coordinating home energy advocacy training and statewide outreach;

    (4) monitoring related federal developments and projects in other states;

    (5) exploring alternative and additional funding possibilities to LIHEAP, both private and public;

    (6) preparing a written annual report addressing the functions set forth in this chapter as well as energy needs; caseload and funding projections; recommendations, if any, for appropriate pilot projects; and, in coordination with the Home Energy Assistance Task Force, recommendations to the General Assembly; and

    (7) coordinating with the Vermont Housing Finance Agency and the Vermont Economic Development Authority in establishing income, efficiency, and administrative guidelines for the Energy Efficiency Loan Program.

    (c) A Home Energy Assistance Task Force shall advise the Office of Home Energy Assistance. The Task Force shall be composed of the Commissioner of the designated department or the Commissioner's designee, one member of the low-income community selected by the Vermont Low Income Advocacy Council, Inc., one representative of elders selected by the Community of Vermont Elders, one representative of people with disabilities selected by the Vermont Coalition for Disability Rights, one representative of unregulated fuel providers selected by unregulated fuel providers, one representative of electric utilities selected by the electric utilities, one representative of gas utilities selected by the gas utilities, one representative of the State Office of Economic Opportunity, and one representative of the Department of Public Service. If any constituency group cannot agree on its representative, the Secretary shall make those selections. Members of the Task Force shall be entitled to reimbursement for reasonable travel and meal expenses. The Task Force shall report regularly to the Director, and on request to the General Assembly, for the purpose of making recommendations for improving Vermont's Home Energy Assistance Programs. (Added 1993, No. 182 (Adj. Sess.), § 1; amended 2007, No. 192 (Adj. Sess.), § 6.019, eff. June 7, 2008; 2013, No. 96 (Adj. Sess.), § 212; 2013, No. 131 (Adj. Sess.), § 54, eff. May 20, 2014; 2021, No. 20, § 316.)

  • § 2602b. LIHEAP and weatherization

    Notwithstanding section 2501 of this title, the Secretary of Human Services may transfer up to 15 percent of each federal fiscal year's Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) block grant to the Home Weatherization Assistance Program to be used for weatherization projects and program administration allowable under LIHEAP in the same State fiscal year. At the same time, an equivalent transfer shall be made to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program from the Home Weatherization Assistance Fund to provide home heating fuel benefits and program administration in the same State fiscal year. (Added 2018, No. 11 (Sp. Sess.), § E.324.1.)

  • § 2603. Repealed. 2017, No. 3, § 65(a), eff. March 2, 2017.

  • § 2604. Eligible beneficiaries; requirements

    (a) The Secretary of Human Services or designee, by rule, shall establish household income eligibility requirements of beneficiaries in the Seasonal Fuel Assistance Program including the income of all residents of the household. The income eligibility requirements shall require that households have a gross household income no greater than 185 percent of the federal poverty level nor in excess of income maximums established by LIHEAP in order to be potentially eligible for benefits. To the extent allowed by federal law, the Secretary of Human Services or designee shall establish by rule a calculation of gross income based on the same rules used in 3SquaresVT, except that the Secretary or designee shall include additional deductions or exclusions from income required by LIHEAP.

    (b) The Secretary of Human Services or designee shall by procedure establish a table that contains amounts that will function as a proxy for applicant households' annual heating fuel cost for the previous year. The seasonal fuel expenditure estimates contained within the table shall closely approximate the actual home heating costs experienced by participants in the Home Heating Fuel Assistance Program. The table shall be revised not less frequently than every three years based on data supplied by certified fuel suppliers, the Department of Public Service, and other industry sources to the Office of Home Heating Fuel Assistance. The Secretary or designee shall provide a draft of the table to the Home Energy Assistance Task Force established pursuant to subsection 2602a(c) of this title and solicit input from the Task Force prior to finalizing the table.

    (c) In determining heating fuel costs of households:

    (1) Residents of housing units subsidized by the federal, State, or local government shall be deemed to have incurred no annual home heating fuel costs, except to the extent required by any federal law or regulation if federal funds are utilized for the Home Heating Fuel Assistance Program, and with the following additional exception. Housing unit residents who participate in Reach Up under chapter 11 of this title, or who receive Supplemental Security Income/Aid to the Aged, Blind, and Disabled (SSI/AABD), Emergency Assistance, or General Assistance benefits that are used in whole or in part to pay for their housing or utility costs and do not receive other federal, State, or local government assistance targeted specifically to their housing or utility needs shall, with the exception of households for which the cost of heat is supplied by the landlord, be assumed to incur annual home heating fuel costs and their eligibility for annual heating fuel assistance shall not be limited by this subsection.

    (2) The annual heating fuel cost for a household unit shall be only for the cost of the primary heating fuel source of the unit, which may be for wood, electricity, or any other fuel source, but annual heating fuel costs shall be only for the cost of heat and not include the cost of the fuel for any other uses of the household. (Added 1995, No. 158 (Adj. Sess.), § 1, eff. May 10, 1996; amended 1997, No. 2, § 68, eff. Feb. 12, 1997; 1997, No. 61, § 130a; 1999, No. 59, §§ 2, 3, eff. June 1, 1999; 1999, No. 66 (Adj. Sess.), § 56, eff. Feb. 8, 2000; 2007, No. 65, § 143; 2007, No. 172 (Adj. Sess.), § 14; 2009, No. 4, § 108, eff. July 1, 2008; 2009, No. 1 (Sp. Sess.), § E.324.3; 2009, No. 88 (Adj. Sess.), § 3, eff. April 29, 2010; 2011, No. 75 (Adj. Sess.), § 112, retroactively eff. June 1, 2010; 2013, No. 50, § E.324.5; 2013, No. 89, § 18, eff. June 17, 2013; 2013, No. 131 (Adj. Sess.), § 56, eff. May 20, 2014; 2017, No. 85, § F.1, eff. June 28, 2017; 2019, No. 131 (Adj. Sess.), § 298.)

  • § 2605. Benefit amounts

    (a) The Secretary of Human Services or designee shall by rule establish a table that specifies maximum percentages of applicant households' annual heating fuel costs, based on the proxy table established pursuant to subsection 2604(b) of this title that can be authorized for payment as annual home heating fuel assistance benefits for the following year. The maximum percentages contained within this table shall vary by household size and annual household income. In no instance shall the percentage exceed 90 percent.

    (b) The maximum percentages of annual heating fuel costs table established in subsection (a) of this section shall provide proportionally higher benefit percentages to households with a gross income of 154 percent of the federal poverty guidelines or less and proportionally lower benefit percentages to households with a gross income of 155 to 185 percent of the federal poverty guideline.

    (c) Annually, based on the number of eligible households that have applied or are projected to apply, and on the eligibility of households in the benefit categories established in this section, the Secretary of Human Services or designee shall, by procedure, set the payment rate that shall be used to determine the amount of annual Home Heating Fuel Assistance for each eligible household. In no event shall the payment rate be greater than 100 percent of the maximum percentage established by rule as required by subsection (a) of this section.

    (d) In the case of a household for which the cost of heat is not supplied by the landlord, the household's annual Home Heating Fuel Assistance benefit is the household's annual heating fuel cost as defined in subsection 2604(b) of this title, multiplied by the maximum percentage for that household found in the table established by subsection (a) of this section, multiplied by the payment rate established in subsection (c) of this section.

    (e) Households that make undesignated payments for energy for home heat in the form of rent and that are not participating in a public, subsidized, or Section 8 housing program shall be eligible for an annual Home Heating Fuel Assistance benefit in an amount equal to 30 percent of the benefit the household would have received if the household were purchasing energy for home heating fuel directly or in the amount of $50.00, whichever amount is greater.

    (f) Households that make undesignated payments for energy for home heat in the form of rent and are participating in a public, subsidized, or Section 8 housing program shall be eligible for a nominal annual Home Heating Fuel Assistance benefit of $21.00.

    (g) Residents of the dwelling unit who make reasonable compensation in the form of room rent and who are not members of the same household shall be eligible for an annual Home Heating Fuel Assistance benefit in the amount of $21.00.

    (h) Households receiving benefits from 3SquaresVT whose head of household is not otherwise eligible for a fuel benefit under this section shall be eligible for a nominal annual Home Heating Fuel Assistance benefit of $21.00. (Added 1995, No. 158 (Adj. Sess.), § 1, eff. May 10, 1996; amended 1997, No. 2, § 69, eff. Feb. 12, 1997; 1999, No. 59, § 4, eff. June 1, 1999; 2007, No. 172 (Adj. Sess.), § 22; 2009, No. 1 (Sp. Sess.), § E.324.4; 2009, No. 88 (Adj. Sess.), § 4, eff. April 29, 2010; 2013, No. 50, § E.324.6; 2013, No. 89, § 19, eff. June 17, 2013; 2013, No. 179 (Adj. Sess.), § E.324.1; 2017, No. 85, § F.2, eff. June 28, 2017.)

  • § 2606. Application period; assistance

    (a) The Secretary of Human Services or designee may accept applications on an ongoing basis beginning on April 1, 2010. The Secretary or designee may establish by rule the procedure for accepting applications and determining eligibility under this subsection.

    (b) No qualified applicant shall be penalized through a reduction of benefits for a late-filed application, except that such applicant shall not receive benefits for any period prior to the month of application.

    (c) The Secretary of Human Services or designee shall process applications and related tasks, including assisting households in applying and providing required information, and locating and contacting fuel suppliers certified under section 2607 of this title. (Added 1995, No. 158 (Adj. Sess.), § 1, eff. May 10, 1996; amended 1999, No. 59, § 5, eff. June 1, 1999; 2009, No. 1 (Sp. Sess.), § E.324.2; 2009, No. 88 (Adj. Sess.), § 5, eff. April 29, 2010.)

  • § 2607. Payments to fuel suppliers

    (a) The Secretary of Human Services or designee shall certify fuel suppliers, excluding firewood and wood pellet suppliers, to be eligible to participate in the Home Heating Fuel Assistance Program. Beneficiaries may use their seasonal fuel assistance benefit to obtain home heating fuel or energy only from a fuel supplier certified by the Director, except that beneficiaries who heat with firewood or wood pellets may obtain their firewood or wood pellets from any supplier they choose.

    (b) Certified fuel suppliers shall agree to conduct reasonable efforts in order to inform and assist beneficiaries in their service areas, maintain records of amounts and costs of all fuel deliveries, send periodic statements to customers receiving home heating fuel assistance informing them of their account's credit or debit balance as of the last statement, deliveries or usage since that statement and the charges for such, payments made or applied, indicating their source, since that statement, and the ending credit or debit balance. Certified fuel suppliers shall also agree to provide the Secretary of Human Services or designee such information deemed necessary for the efficient administration of the Program.

    (c) Certified fuel suppliers shall not disclose the beneficiary status of recipients of Home Heating Fuel Assistance benefits, the names of recipients, or other information pertaining to recipients to anyone, except for purposes directly connected with administration of the Home Heating Fuel Assistance Program or when required by law.

    (d) Certified fuel suppliers shall also agree to enter into budget agreements with beneficiaries for annualized monthly payments for fuel supplies provided the beneficiary meets accepted industry credit standards, and shall grant Program beneficiaries such cash discounts, preseason delivery savings, automatic fuel delivery agreements, and any other discounts granted to any other heating fuel customer or as the Secretary of Human Services or designee may negotiate with certified fuel suppliers.

    (e) The Secretary of Human Services or designee shall provide each certified fuel supplier with a list of the households who are its customers and have been found eligible for annual Home Heating Fuel Assistance for the current year, the total amount of annual Home Heating Fuel Assistance that has been authorized for each household, and how the total amount has been allocated over the heating season. Each authorized amount shall function as a line of credit for each eligible household. The Secretary or designee shall disburse authorized Home Heating Fuel Assistance benefits to certified fuel suppliers on behalf of eligible households. Authorized benefits for oil, propane, kerosene, dyed diesel, and coal shall be paid after fuel is delivered and invoiced to the Secretary or designee. Authorized benefits for electricity and natural gas shall be paid in full and credited to the eligible household's account at the same time benefit notices are issued to the eligible household.

    (f) The Secretary of Human Services or designee shall negotiate with one or more certified fuel suppliers to obtain the most advantageous pricing, payment terms, and delivery methods possible for eligible households.

    (g)(1) The Public Utility Commission shall require natural gas suppliers subject to regulation under 30 V.S.A. § 203 to provide a discount program to customers with incomes no greater than 200 percent of the federal poverty level or who meet the Department for Children and Families' means test of eligibility for LIHEAP crisis fuel assistance. Eligibility for the discount shall be verified by the Department for Children and Families.

    (2) In implementing the discount program, the Commission shall consider:

    (A) low-income discount programs, rates, and cost structures of other Vermont regulated utilities;

    (B) low-income discount programs, rates, and cost structures for gas customers in other states; and

    (C) options for allocating the costs of the discount program that avoid or reduce the cost impact of the program on ineligible ratepayers, including consideration of each of the following:

    (i) use of any revenues collected from ratepayers that are in excess of the revenue requirement most recently determined by the Commission; and

    (ii) use of revenues collected from ratepayers to fund system expansions that have not been placed in service.

    (3) On or before January 15, 2013, the Commission shall:

    (A) implement this subsection by order to each natural gas company subject to its jurisdiction; and

    (B) report to the House Committees on Commerce and Economic Development and on Human Services and to the Senate Committees on Health and Welfare and on Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs on its implementation of this subsection, including its consideration of the matters described in subdivision (2) of this subsection and the results of that consideration. (Added 1995, No. 158 (Adj. Sess.), § 1, eff. May 10, 1996; amended 1999, No. 59, § 6, eff. June 1, 1999; 2005, No. 93 (Adj. Sess.), §§ 38, 126c, eff. March 3, 2006; 2009, No. 88 (Adj. Sess.), § 6, eff. April 29, 2010; 2011, No. 136 (Adj. Sess.), § 13, eff. May 18, 2012; 2013, No. 131 (Adj. Sess.), § 57, eff. May 20, 2014.)

  • § 2608. Weatherization program agreements

    The Director of the Home Energy Assistance Program shall inform the Administrator of the Home Weatherization Assistance Program, established under chapter 25 of this title, of all participants in the Home Heating Fuel Assistance Program. The Agency of Human Services shall provide all participants in the Home Heating Fuel Assistance Program with information regarding the efficiency utility established under 30 V.S.A. § 209. All participants in the Home Heating Fuel Assistance Program shall be deemed to comply with any income requirements of the Home Weatherization Program, but to receive weatherization services, recipients shall be required to meet any other eligibility requirements of the Home Weatherization Program. As a condition of receipt of benefits under the Home Heating Fuel Assistance Program, a recipient shall consent to receive services of the Home Weatherization Assistance Program. The Home Weatherization Assistance Program shall give the highest priority to providing services to participants within the Home Heating Fuel Assistance Program and, among those participants, to those who require the highest energy usage. (Added 1995, No. 158 (Adj. Sess.), § 1, eff. May 10, 1996; amended 2005, No. 208 (Adj. Sess.), § 16; 2013, No. 50, § E.324.7; 2013, No. 89, § 20; 2017, No. 85, § F.3, eff. June 28, 2017.)

  • § 2609. Crisis reserves; eligibility and assistance

    (a) Annually, the Secretary of Human Services or designee shall determine an appropriate amount of funds to be set aside for expenditure for the crisis fuel assistance component of the Home Heating Fuel Program. The Secretary or designee shall also adopt rules to define crisis situations for the expenditure of the home heating fuel crisis funds, and to establish the income eligibility requirements of households for receipt of crisis Home Heating Fuel Assistance, provided that no household shall be eligible whose gross household income is greater than 200 percent of the federal poverty level based on the income of all persons residing in the household. To the extent allowed by federal law, the Secretary or designee shall establish by rule a calculation of gross income based on the same rules used in 3SquaresVT, except that the Secretary or designee shall include additional deductions or exclusions from income required by LIHEAP.

    (b) Crisis fuel grants shall be limited per winter heating season to one grant for households that are income-eligible and have received a seasonal fuel assistance grant and meet all eligibility requirements for crisis fuel assistance, or to two grants for households that are not income-eligible for seasonal fuel assistance and meet all eligibility requirements for crisis fuel assistance. (Added 1995, No. 158 (Adj. Sess.), § 1, eff. May 10, 1996; amended 2009, No. 1 (Sp. Sess.), § E.324.5; 2009, No. 88 (Adj. Sess.), § 7, eff. April 29, 2010; 2011, No. 75 (Adj. Sess.), § 113, retroactively eff. June 1, 2010; 2013, No. 50, § E.324.9; 2017, No. 85, § F.5, eff. June 28, 2017.)