Governor Mills Announces Emergency Winter Energy Relief Plan

The plan proposes sending $450 checks to Maine people, supplementing home heating assistance and emergency fuel programs, and funding emergency short-term housing to avoid homelessness during winter months

Governor Janet Mills today unveiled the Emergency Winter Energy Relief Plan, a package of short-term measures aimed at ensuring that low-income and middle-class Maine people and families can stay warm, safe, and secure this winter amid near record high energy prices.

“Inflation and high energy prices are stretching the wallets of Maine people, in some cases forcing them to face the impossible choice of heating their homes, putting food on the table, or paying for other necessities,” said Governor Janet Mills. “With this plan, we hope to ease the burden on Maine people by putting money back into their pockets so they can better afford these costs and by ensuring that our most vulnerable citizens are able to stay warm this winter. This approach builds on our nation-leading inflation relief measure, incorporates Republican feedback, and represents the most direct way to get help to Maine people as we work to bring down energy costs in the long-term. I ask the Legislature to pass this plan with the 2/3 support needed to enact it as an emergency measure so that we can get this relief into the hands of Maine people without delay.”

The Governor’s Office negotiated with Republicans and Democratic leadership in the Legislature over the past several weeks. At the request of legislative Republicans, the Governor and Democrats raised the income threshold for the Winter Energy Relief Payment. The Governor urges the Legislature to pass the plan on December 7, 2022 – the date of the convening of the First Regular Session of the 131st Maine Legislature – with the 2/3 support needed to enact it as an emergency measure. If achieved, the Mills Administration estimates that the $450 Winter Energy Relief Payment will be distributed beginning mid-January 2023. The plan takes the form of a governor’s emergency bill sponsored by Senate President Troy Jackson.

More specifically, the Emergency Winter Energy Relief Plan includes:

  • Winter Energy Relief Payment of $450 to an estimated 880,000 eligible Maine people, amounting to $900 in relief for the average Maine family. Based on already-filed 2021 tax returns, eligible Maine people will have a Federal adjusted gross income (FAGI) of less than: $100,000 if filing single or if married and filing separately; $150,000 if filing as head of household; or $200,000 for couples filing jointly.
  • Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) Supplement: $40 million to supplement the Home Energy Assistance Program to help HEAP recipients receive a financial benefit equal to last year’s.
  • Emergency Fuel: $10 million to Maine Community Action Partnerships to help them deliver emergency fuel assistance to prevent people and families from running out of heating fuel and experiencing a heating crisis.
  • Short-Term Housing Support: $21 million to bolster the Emergency Housing Relief Fund created by Governor Mills and the Legislature earlier this year that supports emergency housing and emergency shelters to prevent people from experiencing homelessness this winter.

The plan also reestablishes in State law a process by which the Department of Environmental Protection can waive fuel sulfur limitations if necessary to protect public health, safety, or welfare.

Read a more detailed outline of the Emergency Winter Energy Relief Program (PDF).

The Governor is also taking executive action to distribute additional heating aid to low-income older Maine people. During the week of December 12, the Department of Health and Human Services will provide one-time payments of $500 to approximately 13,000 households that include low-income Maine people aged 65 or older to help them pay for home heating costs.

“Thanks to the strong fiscal management of the Governor and the Legislature, the State of Maine has additional surplus that we will again put towards supporting Maine people through difficult times. The Department of Administrative and Financial Services, particularly our team at Maine Revenue Services, stands ready to immediately implement the Governor and Legislature’s bipartisan energy relief plan,” said Kirsten Figueroa, Commissioner of the Department of Administrative and Financial Services (DAFS). “If enacted as an emergency measure, we will begin distributing the energy relief payments in mid-January.”

“Maine is distinctly vulnerable to impacts from volatile global fossil fuel markets, which are causing Maine people to face unprecedented energy costs this winter,” said Dan Burgess, Director of the Governor’s Energy Office. “This relief plan will help Maine people and families stay warm this winter. Our office remains engaged with local, state, regional and national partners to continue to find ways to ensure energy supplies this winter and on strategies to help grow Maine’s energy independence.”

“We are grateful for the support of Governor Mills,” said MaineHousing Director Daniel Brennan. “This emergency funding is going to help our neighbors, our families and our friends stay warm during a time when they are experiencing exceptional economic pressures from accelerating energy costs across the spectrum. Maine, like other New England states, is especially susceptible to the rising costs of oil with many of our homes using that as a primary heating fuel. While we continue to move Mainers to more renewable, stable and accessible forms of heating energy we still need to keep our homes warm this winter and this package of support for Maine people will do that. The funding aimed at helping those at risk of homelessness is critical to this overall relief package and it will help hundreds of our most vulnerable fellow Mainers as we head into the coldest part of winter.”

The proposal builds on – and completes – the nation-leading $850 inflation relief checks delivered by Governor Mills and the Legislature earlier this year. The plan provides $4.4 million in additional funding to finish the distribution of the checks. In total, the program will send $850 checks to 880,000 Maine people, surpassing the original estimate of 858,000 people.

The relief plan comes as the average price for heating oil in Maine remains above $5 per gallon, which has consumers now expected to pay, on average, $525 more to fill their tank compared to one year ago. Further, with electricity price increases, Maine people are expected to pay, on average, more than $500 more in electricity costs per year compared to a typical year.

The increase in energy prices is driven by the volatility of global energy markets following the Russian invasion of Ukraine and is exacerbated by Maine’s over-reliance on fossil fuels. Nearly 60 percent of Maine homes are reliant upon heating oil, compared to just four percent nationally, making Maine the most heating oil dependent state in the nation. Meanwhile, the New England electric grid, which supplies power to a majority of Maine, is also over-reliant on natural gas to generate electricity. This makes Maine distinctly vulnerable to price increases driven by the volatility of the global energy market.

This Emergency Winter Energy Relief Plan also builds on actions taken by the Mills Administration and the Legislature to reduce costs for Maine people and businesses grappling with increased prices. Those actions include:

Resources to help Maine people and families take action to save money, improve their home’s energy efficiency, and find heating assistance if needed can be found on the Governor’s Energy Office’s updated Winter Heating Guide.