Governor Martin O'Malley today announced the release of an additional $20 million to help lower-income Marylanders pay high utility bills resulting from recent extreme winter weather.
Working together, the Maryland Energy Administration (MEA), the Department of Human Resources (DHR) and the Public Service Commission (PSC) will administer the benefit. The $20 million in supplemental benefits will be made available to all income eligible households who apply for the Electric Universal Service Program in FY2014.
"Families should not have to choose between staying warm and providing for their families," said Governor O'Malley. "The efforts we are announcing today will help over 100,000 lower-income Marylanders stay warm and safe during this unusually cold winter."
Households who already have been approved for assistance as of July 1, 2013 will see the benefit automatically post to their account with no further action required by the customer. Applications are still being accepted for Marylanders who qualify for the program but have not yet applied. The supplemental benefit was made possible by a higher than anticipated award from the Federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) as well as an increase in proceeds from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). DHR is also providing additional staffing to help administer this supplemental benefit.
Energy demands this winter have created a tremendous strain on Maryland families.
The average temperature at Baltimore-Washington International Airport in January 2014 was 27 degrees -- compared to 35 in January 2013. In Hagerstown, the difference was even more dramatic, with an average temperature of 25 degrees in January 2014 versus 34 in January 2013.
Because of these colder temperatures, the amount of electricity used by an average house in some Maryland utility territories increased significantly over this same time last year. Depending on the type of fuel and furnace model, usage could increase as much as 50 percent. Stated another way, when the temperature outside is lower, more energy is required to maintain the same temperature inside your home. This is why a customer's bill increases during the winter even though the home thermostat stays constant or is lowered.
Increased energy use can translate to an increase in energy bills -- from an average of 7% in some utility areas to 30% or more in others.
"The Fuel Fund of Maryland commends Governor O'Malley for making it a priority to release additional funds at this time for Marylanders who are impacted the most by rising energy bills," said Mary Ellen Vanni, Executive Director of the Fuel Fund of Maryland. "Combined with the recent reduction in the duration of unemployment and other benefits, there is a compelling case for an immediate response through additional financial aid and additional staff to facilitate access to the funds."
Paula Carmody, head of the Office of People's Counsel, added, "Households across the state will face significant increases in their energy bills this winter due to the extremely cold weather and wholesale price increases. The supplemental federal LIHEAP funds and funds allocated from the State's RGGI proceeds will provide much needed assistance to households with limited financial resources. I applaud the Governor's efforts to dedicate these funds immediately to address this need and provide additional staffing resources to process assistance applications. I urge everyone who has a relative, friend or neighbor facing financial challenges with these bills to tell them about the available assistance for utility bills and encourage them to apply for assistance immediately."
Governor O'Malley has closely monitored Maryland's utilities to ensure that they are also being responsive to their customers' needs. All of Maryland's utilities, including Potomac Electric Power Company (Pepco), BGE, Choptank Electric Cooperative, Columbia Gas of Maryland, Delmarva Power & Light, Potomac Edison, Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative, and Washington Gas, as well as the State's propane, heating oil and other heating fuels distributors, are providing direct assistance to customers through various programs and payment plans. The PSC also issued an Order last week directing the utilities to appear on March 4, 2014 to discuss the status of bill payment and customer communications in light of the higher bills. Utility customers who face difficulty paying their bills are strongly encouraged to call their energy providers to discuss the options available to them.
Understanding that many Marylanders will want to help their neighbors during this challenging time, the Governor has worked with United Way of Central Maryland and United Ways across the State to create an opportunity for Marylanders to give the gift of energy. Donations will be distributed throughout the State and will help Marylanders who are struggling to keep their homes heated this winter. Please visit: www.uwcm.org/winter2014 or call (410) 895-1566.