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NO. 59. AN ACT RELATING TO THE HOME HEATING FUEL ASSISTANCE PROGRAM.

(S.98)

It is hereby enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Vermont:

Sec. 1. 33 V.S.A. § 2601a is added to read:

§ 2601a. DEFINITIONS

For purposes of 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 or wife 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 or wife 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, 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 standards specified below for exclusion from the economic unit:

(A) Individuals in the custody of and placed in foster care by the department of social and rehabilitative services, and individuals placed in a home by or through a program administered by the department of developmental and mental health services.

(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.

Sec. 2. 33 V.S.A. § 2604(a) and (b) are amended to read:

(a) Household income requirements. The secretary, by rule, shall establish household income and asset eligibility requirements of beneficiaries in the seasonal fuel assistance program including the income and assets of all residents of the household. The eligibility requirements shall require that households have a net household income no greater than 125 percent of the federal poverty level in order to be potentially eligible for benefits. Net income shall be derived by making the following deductions from gross income: 20 percent of household members' gross earned income; 100 percent of federal or state earned income credits received by household members; dependent care expenses that are within an allowable maximum, paid by a household member, and necessary to support a household member's employment or training for employment, according to criteria established by the secretary by rule; child support or alimony payments made by a household member on behalf of a nonhousehold member that meet criteria established by the secretary by rule; *[$100.00]* $150.00 for each household member who is 60 years of age or older or disabled according to criteria established by the secretary by rule; any deductions or exclusions required by federal law or regulations; and any other deduction or exclusion established by the secretary by rule.

(b) Fuel cost requirements. *[For annual home heating fuel assistance provided after July 1, 1997, the]* The secretary shall adopt rules that specify the responsibility of the applicant households and their certified fuel supplier in providing the office of home heating fuel assistance with information that the office will use to *[determine]* establish an applicant household's *[annual]* heating fuel *[cost]* consumption for the previous year. *[For annual home heating fuel assistance provided during the year that begins on July 1, 1996 and ends on June 30, 1997, the]* The secretary shall by rule 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 such table shall closely approximate the actual home heating costs experienced by participants in the home heating fuel assistance program. Such table shall be revised no less frequently than every three years based on data supplied by certified fuel suppliers to the office of home heating fuel assistance, as required by rule. The secretary shall also establish by rule minimum amounts of annual home heating fuel costs that vary based on the household's size and annual income.

Sec. 3. 33 V.S.A. § 2604(c)(1) is amended to read:

(c) In determining heating fuel costs of households:

(1)(A) *[Households for which the cost of heat is supplied by the landlord shall be deemed to pay no annual home heating fuel costs, but effective with the first home heating fuel assistance benefit paid after July 1, 1996, and during subsequent home heating fuel assistance program years, such households shall be eligible for a nominal annual home heating fuel assistance benefit of $10.00, which benefit shall be paid via a two-party check to the household and its supplier of primary heating fuel or its landlord.]* Households that make undesignated payments for energy for home heat in the form of rent 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.

(B) *[Residents of a household who pay room rent are household subunits and shall not be considered separate households for purposes of the home heating fuel assistance program. Such subunits of larger households may receive home heating fuel assistance only as members of the larger household, with the exception of payers of room rent who received a fuel assistance benefit for the 1995-1996 program year and all subsequent program years based on their roomer status, who are not members of a household that is receiving home heating fuel assistance benefits in the current program year, who are receiving food stamp benefits and have done so continuously since the 1995-1996 program year, and who have applied for a home heating assistance benefit for the current year. Households who are paying room rent and meet all of the aforementioned criteria shall be eligible to receive a nominal annual home heating fuel assistance benefit of $10.00 in program years in which LIHEAP funding is used for payments made under the home heating fuel assistance program and food stamp program rules require that the maximum standard utility allowance be made available to households that receive benefits under the Low Income Energy Assistance Act of 1981.]*

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 $50.00.

Sec. 4. 33 V.S.A. § 2605 is amended to read:

§ 2605. BENEFIT AMOUNTS

(a) The secretary shall by rule establish a table that specifies for households for which the cost of heat is not supplied by the landlord, maximum annual home heating fuel assistance benefit amounts. The maximum benefit amounts contained within this table shall vary by household size and annual household income. The annual home heating fuel assistance benefit for households *[for which the cost of heat is supplied by the landlord shall, in all cases, be $10.00 per program year]* that make undesignated payments for energy for home heat in the form of rent, and for households that pay room rent and who are not members of the same household with other residents of the dwelling unit, shall be the amounts established in section 2604(c)(1) of this title.

(b) The secretary shall by rule establish a table that specifies*[, for households for which the cost of heat is not supplied by the landlord,]* maximum percentages of applicant households' annual heating fuel costs *[for the previous year]* , based on the proxy table established pursuant to section 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.

(c) Annually, based on the number of eligible households that have applied, and for which the cost of heat is not supplied by the landlord, these households' individual incomes and individual annual heating fuel cost *[for the previous year]*, based on the proxy table established pursuant to section 2604(b) of this title, the number of eligible households that have applied and for which the cost of heat is supplied by the landlord, the cost of benefits for these households, and the amount of funds available in the home heating fuel assistance trust fund for the purpose of providing annual home heating fuel assistance benefits, the secretary shall, by procedure, set the payment rate that shall be used to determine the amount of annual home heating fuel assistance for which each household for which the cost of heat is not supplied by the landlord qualifies. In no event shall the payment rate be greater than 100 percent of the maximum percentage established by rule as required by subsection (b) 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 for the previous year as defined in section 2604(b) of this title, multiplied by the maximum percentage for that household found in the table established by subsection (b) of this section, multiplied by the payment rate established in subsection (c) of this section. In no event, however, shall the benefit paid for these households exceed the maximum benefit for a household of its income and size as established by rule as required in subsection (a) of this section. *[In the case of a household for which the cost of heat is supplied by the landlord, the household's annual home heating fuel assistance benefit is $10.00.]* The annual home heating fuel assistance benefit for households that make undesignated payments for energy for home heat in the form of rent, and for households that pay room rent and who are not members of the same household with other residents of the dwelling unit, shall be the amounts established in section 2604(c)(1) of this title.

(e) In its report to the general assembly in 1997 required by 33 V.S.A. § 2501a(b)(6), the office of home energy assistance shall evaluate the effect of making benefit amounts under this section vary directly with household size and make recommendations on whether this policy should be maintained.

Sec. 5. 33 V.S.A. § 2606 is amended to read:

§ 2606. APPLICATION PERIOD; ASSISTANCE

(a) In order to make a timely determination of benefit levels, there shall be an application period during which all beneficiaries shall apply for home heating fuel assistance for the ensuing heating season. The application period shall be from July 15 through August 31 *[beginning with the 1997-1998 heating season and each heating season thereafter. For the 1996-1997 heating season, the application period shall begin no later than August 15 and extend no longer than 47 calendar days]*.

(b) The secretary *[may]* shall accept applications after the application period has closed *[only in unanticipated circumstances or for good cause shown, such as loss of employment of the applicant]*, but no later than the last day of February. No qualified applicant shall be penalized through a reduction of benefits for a late-filed application, except that such applicant shall not be entitled to benefits for any period prior to the month of application.

(c) The director of home energy assistance shall supply or contract for staff to carry out application-processing 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.

Sec. 6. 33 V.S.A. § 2607(h) is added to read:

(h) The director may negotiate with one or more certified fuel suppliers to obtain the most advantageous pricing and payment terms possible for eligible households.

Sec. 7. STUDY OF PROGRAM ADMINISTRATION

The secretary of human services shall contract with an independent organization or individual for a program administration study of the home heating fuel assistance program. The study shall include a representative survey of alternative program administration methods used in other New England states. The study shall evaluate whether a reorganization of the manner in which the home heating fuel assistance program is administered can increase the portion of public funds used to pay benefits to eligible households, with the goal of maintaining or improving the quality of service provided to program beneficiaries, and with the goal of reducing the number of persons that need to apply for benefits under the crisis component of the program. In connection with its analysis of reorganization options, the study shall evaluate the feasibility and cost-effectiveness of providing the seasonal benefit component and the crisis component of the program through the regional community action agencies, and of consolidating all functions of the program within one agency. The secretary shall transmit the program administration study to the general assembly, together with any recommendations, on or before January 1, 2000.

Sec. 8. ALLOCATION OF LIHEAP FUNDS

Of the funds appropriated in Sec. 131 of H.554 of 1999 no more than $900,000.00 shall be expended for crisis fuel assistance benefits, crisis fuel directed service/administration, and crisis fuel after-hours assistance. In the 1999-2000 fuel season, in the event that $900,000.00 is insufficient to fund the crisis component of the fuel program, as defined above, and, no federal LIHEAP emergency contingency funding is released to the state during the 1999-2000 program year, the home weatherization assistance trust fund shall be the source of the additional funds required.

Sec. 9. EFFECTIVE DATE; ADOPTION OF RULES

This act shall take effect on passage. The secretary may adopt rules to implement the provisions of this act from June 1, 1999 through October 1, 1999 under the expeditious rule-making procedures set out in Sec. 128 of Act No. 147 of the 1998 Session of the General Assembly relating to the expeditious adoption of social welfare rules.

Approved: June 1, 1999