AUGUSTA — The Maine Senate has voted to enact a bill submitted by Sen. Chip Curry, D-Waldo, to reduce barriers Mainers face in accessing heating assistance. LD 1966, “An Act To Facilitate Access to Heating Assistance,” received unanimous, bipartisan support in both the Senate and House.

“When someone reaches out for heating assistance in the bitter cold of a Maine winter, they should be able to trust that help will get to them in a timely manner. Unfortunately, this season, we heard far too many stories of Mainers waiting weeks or even months to get the heating aie they qualified for and needed. It turns out, one of the biggest hurdles in the way was outdated bureaucratic red tape,” Curry said. “I was proud to sponsor this bill to get bureaucracy out of the way for Maine people, and I’m grateful to my fellow legislators for supporting this bill.”

LD 1966 would require the Maine State Housing Authority to adopt rules for the administration of its fuel assistance program that require local program operators and administrators — particularly the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or HEAP — to accept online applications. Local Community Action Programs administer applications for HEAP. The current process of applying for HEAP has created a bottleneck for applicants, with many Mainers waiting months to receive assistance. The committee amendment adds an emergency clause to the bill, meaning that it would go into effect immediately upon becoming law.

“HEAP is a complicated program based on federal rules. We are mandated to provide the greatest benefit to the poorest people with the highest heating cost burden. This makes HEAP more complicated than a typical low-income benefit. Changes like categorical eligibility and online applications will not be simple, nor will they be silver bullets, but they all should make a difference in this process,” said Erik Jorgensen of MaineHousing, in testimony supporting the bill.

Maine Community Action Partnership and Maine Equal Justice also testified in favor of the bill.

The bill now goes to Gov. Janet Mills, who has 10 days to either sign the bill into law, veto it or allow it to become law without her signature.