Maine’s public utility regulators approved an extension Tuesday of an energy assistance program that is expected to help tens of thousands of low-income state residents as potential cuts to federal assistance loom.

Members of the Maine Public Utilities Commission said the decision extends assistance to as many as 46,000 additional residents. The commission approved a one-time boost to its Low-Income Assistance Program and increased the eligibility threshold for Maine Department of Health and Human Services programs.

The changes could increase the average benefit for those who receive assistance by nearly a third, said commission Chair Philip Bartlett II.

“Not only does this increase the number of customers eligible to receive assistance, but it will also increase the average customer benefit,” Bartlett said in a statement. “Our staff estimates that the average benefit could increase by up to 31%, which means real relief for Mainers who are struggling the most.”

The increase in assistance is arriving just as federal Low Income Heating Assistance Program funding could face cuts as a potential government shutdown looms. The Biden administration said last week that Republican spending cut proposals could reduce the program’s funding by $26 million in Maine and hundreds of millions more around the country.

Maine has some of the highest energy costs in the country, in part because of its cold temperatures and reliance on oil heating. The Low-Income Assistance Program provides credits on electric bills based on residents’ income and electricity usage.

The commission said its decision to increase funding bumped the program from $15 million to $22.5 million for the 2023-24 year. It said residents participating in the program will receive a notice regarding their eligibility.

The commission’s decision comes as families across the country are once again preparing to grapple with high energy costs as temperatures begin to fall. Last year, the Biden administration made billions in federal funding available through the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

This year’s hot summer also tested residents’ ability to keep up with soaring electricity bills in Maine and across the country.

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