PHILLIPS — Jay and Joan Adams received just enough home heating assistance to make it through recent winters, piecing together a budget on federal aid and emergency fuel deliveries from charity groups.

When the Phillips couple, both 74, learned their federal heating assistance was cut nearly in half this year, their patchwork approach fell apart, the husband said.

“We don’t have the money to buy enough fuel to make up for the drop,” Jay Adams said.

Three U.S. senators from New England introduced a bill Wednesday to protect the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program from a 45 percent cut proposed by President Barack Obama, according to a news release from Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine.

But as Congress debates reversing the drastic cut in heating assistance to thousands of Mainers, many residents and charitable groups are already seeing signs they won’t be able to pick up the slack, according to Judy Frost.

Frost handles heating assistance services for Western Maine Community Action, a social service agency. The agency distributed $2.5 million in LIHEAP aid last year and had that amount cut to about $820,000 this year, she said.

There are two charitable groups — the Ecumenical Heating Fund and the Good Neighbor Fuel Fund — that provide emergency fuel deliveries to the agencies’ communities in Franklin County and northern Androscoggin County, she said.

Those groups spent $80,000 last year on the fuel deliveries that helped low-income households. This year, they’ve already spent $27,000 to provide heating fuel for 150 households, which is on the same pace as the previous year, Frost said.

“That’s what is scaring our local groups because there is no way they can make up for a million and a half dollars in cuts,” she said, referring to the drop in federal heating aid.

There are also at least 100 households in the region that received LIHEAP aid last year and will lose the benefit because of changes in income eligibility standards, according to Frost, program manager for community services at her agency.

Last year, a single person with an income of up to $2,058 per month could get the benefit. This year that income eligibility dropped to $1,533 per month, she said.

A family of four with combined income up to $3,675 per month was eligible last year, and that standard fell to $2,794, she said.

The Adams’ only income is about $1,500 per month from Social Security. Western Maine Community Action helped them get federal aid to weatherize their home and install insulation to lower their heating costs, Jay Adams said.

Even if the LIHEAP assistance is restored to last year’s level, however, the couple will still lack the heating fuel to make it through the season without help from other charitable groups, he said.

“Last year, we got twice as much (heating aid) and that didn’t even last the winter,” he said.

The Adamses get emergency heating fuel from the Ecumenical Heat Fund. The couple also relies on national charitable groups that organize similar programs, the husband said.

He described anxious days each winter when the couple has almost run out of heating fuel while waiting for the next emergency fuel delivery. “It gets a little nerve-wracking not knowing if you’re going to make it,” he said.

Jay Adams is diabetic and has stage-four terminal cancer and his wife recently had double by-pass heart surgery, leaving them susceptible to health problems tied to cold temperatures.

“We’re not really that strong when it comes to coping with the cold,” the husband said.

Yet the couple never raises the thermostat above 60 degrees regardless of how cold it gets outside, hoping to stretch the heating fuel amid constant fears of running out, he said.

“I try to keep it from kicking on as much as I can,” he said.

The LIHEAP Protection Act presented by the senators would provide the same level of funding for the program — $4.7 billion — as it received last year, the Associated Press reports.

Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, Snowe and Jack Reed, D-Rhode Island, say demand for the program has increased during the economic downturn. Last year it provided help to 8.9 million households, representing a 54 percent increase since 2008, the Associated Press reports.

Maine has received $23 million, down from $55.6 million in 2011, so far for this winter, Snowe said in her release about the cut.

“The consequence of that decision is Mainers are now receiving assistance that is more than a 50 percent cut, and this coupled with increased cost of home heating oil is having a devastating effect on Maine’s least fortunate,” she said.

David Robinson — 861-9287

[email protected]

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