As Vermonters, we are familiar with cold temperatures. It gets cold here in the winter. That’s why access to heat is so important. The Vermont Attorney General’s office is charged with seeing that companies remain in compliance with Consumer Protection Rule 111: Regulation of Propane. Our Consumer Assistance Program (CAP) receives propane complaints each year. Since 2011, there has been an overall decline in propane complaints which is good news.
However, Vermonters contact us more and more about heat insecurity and their inability to afford the lowest cost delivery option of fuel. The Vermont Department of Health recently warned that between 2008 and 2016, 26 Vermonters died from hypothermia. That is 26 too many. VDH advises “Hypothermia happens when your body temperature is abnormally low. It is caused by being in cold temperatures for an extended period of time…Older adults, infants and people with chronic medical conditions are especially susceptible to hypothermia, even after relatively short exposure to cold weather or a small drop in body temperature.”
When consumers can’t afford the cost of fuel or energy to heat their homes, there is a severe risk of hypothermia, especially during such cold winters here in Vermont. People often turn back the dial on their thermostats in order to preserve fuel to forgo the added expense. The CAP hotline has heard stories of families in need of fuel, living on low to no heat in the middle of winter. Lack of fuel is beyond a consumer protection issue; it’s a health risk.
If you or someone you know is having trouble affording heat this winter, here are some programs that can help: Vermont has the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program as well the WARMTH Program to help. We encourage people who need heat to seek out Vermont Fuel Assistance. Vermonters can call 1-800-479-6151, visit their local Department of Children and Families or Community Action.
Don’t qualify for fuel assistance? Your Community Action office may have a supplemental program, like Fuel Your Neighbors that may be able to help. Also, check with your fuel dealer. The Vermont Fuel Dealer’s Association has “Split the Ticket Program” that delivers free heating fuel to individuals through donations from fuel dealers, local businesses, organizations, and private donors.
For those who agree that going without heat in Vermont is unconscionable, please consider making a donation to support your neighbors in need. Can’t afford it? You can commit to performing wellness checks on people who you suspect may be keeping the dial back. Your neighbors will appreciate the warmth.
Contributing Writer: Crystal Baldwin