BOSTON (AP) Governors from across New England, warning that some families may have to choose between food and warmth this winter, called for a sharp boost in federal home heating aid.

The governors, meeting in Boston on Wednesday, said they are sending letters to President Bush, the presidential candidates, U.S. House and Senate leaders and their congressional delegations asking for an increase in the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch said home heating oil prices have nearly doubled in the past year and are approaching $5 a gallon in some areas.

He said his state received about $25 million to help 33,000 low-income families last winter and would need $50 million for the same level of aid this winter.

“I think it’s potentially a crisis and I don’t use that word lightly,” Lynch said.

“We don’t want our families to be in the situation of having to make choices between being able to buy food for themselves or filling up the heating oil tank in their homes.”

Lynch’s worries were echoed by other governors, who said the Northeast, with its cold winters and reliance on oil heat, is particularly vulnerable to rising energy costs.

“New England is more tied to home heating oil as a region than the rest of the country,” said Maine Gov. John Baldacci.

“We are more dependent on foreign sources of energy into our region.”

During the 2005-06 winter the region received about $313 million through the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

The governors said that only helped poorer families buy enough fuel to get less than halfway through the winter.

To fully fund the program, given the rising energy costs and expanded need, would cost nearly $1 billion, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick said.

Patrick said rising fuel costs will put pressure on middle-income families too, and urged residents to contact their utility companies for an energy audit to find ways to conserve fuel during the winter.

Baldacci said nuclear power has to be “part of the solution.”

The National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association, which represents state-run low-income energy assistance programs, said the national average cost to heat a home with oil this winter will be $2,593, up from $1,962 last winter.

Families in cold-weather Northeast states will be hit even harder.

Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass. and Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, have co-sponsored a bill that would mandate that heating oil from the Northeast Home Heating Oil Reserve should be released if home heating oil tops $4 per gallon this winter.


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