Just last fall, fuel oil was running about $3 a gallon. While that was painful enough for many, fuel oil is $4.50 a gallon right now and it could hit $5 a gallon or more by this fall if current trends continue. That’s well past a tipping point that will bring real hardship to many in our area, and political leaders in Washington and here in Minnesota need to start planning for it now. It’s unrealistic to believe that the poor or those on fixed incomes will somehow be able to adjust their budgets to accommodate such unprecendented increases, especially when most haven’t recovered financially from this past winter.
Indeed, we’re already seeing the fuel price fallout, especially among the elderly. As we report this week, the Second Harvest Food Bank in Duluth has seen a sharp increase in the number of elderly residents of our region inquiring about food assistance because of high fuel prices. Most elderly residents are strongly averse to asking for help, but the situation is critical and many will no longer have a choice.
One elderly resident of Tower realized that grim fact one month last winter, when her entire monthly check went to pay her fuel bill. While she finally turned to the local food shelf for help, food shelves can only supply a few days of food assistance a month. Residents like this will need far more help than that if they’re going to make it through a winter with fuel oil at $5 a gallon.
Without a major increase in heating assistance, many of our neighbors will be nothing short of desperate this winter.
Our political leaders need to take action now to head off such a stark reality. In Washington, Congress needs to get serious about expanding the Low Income Heating Energy Assistance Program as well as expanding federal funding for energy efficiency improvements for low income households.