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Changes to N.S. home energy assistance fund will hurt low-income residents, says Liberal leader

Nova Scotia Liberal leader Zach Churchill says more Nova Scotians will take a financial hit without funds from the HEAT program. (Mark Crosby/CBC - image credit)
Nova Scotia Liberal leader Zach Churchill says more Nova Scotians will take a financial hit without funds from the HEAT program. (Mark Crosby/CBC - image credit)

Nova Scotia Liberal leader Zach Churchill says a heating assistance program launched this week by the government could leave some Nova Scotians in the cold.

The Houston government is launching the annual home energy assistance (HEAT) top-up fund with reduced eligibility for 2024.

"The government tried to sneak this out the door," said Churchill. "We haven't heard any announcements about it and people are just being informed when they apply that they can't apply this year because they may have received support last year."

Churchill says access to the fund is critical, particularly for financially vulnerable Nova Scotians.

The HEAT program is administered by the Salvation Army but funded by the province and Nova Scotia Power.

In 2021, in response to the pandemic, eligibility was expanded so people could apply every 12 months instead of the usual 24 months. But a Service Nova Scotia spokesperson said that a decision wasn't intended to be permanent.

Low-income residents 'being attacked'

Churchill says it means some Nova Scotians will be taking another financial hit.

"This is on top of the government already freezing income assistance for two years, cutting the heating assistance rebate program back and changing the eligibility for rent income supplements," said Churchill. "Low-income Nova Scotians are really being attacked by this government."

Service Nova Scotia says the Nova Scotia government, along with Nova Scotia Power and the Salvation Army, decided in September 2022 that program would go back to its usual 24-month criteria as of 2024.

The Home Energy Assistance Top-Up Fund was formerly known as the Good Neighbour Energy Fund which started in 1997.
The Home Energy Assistance Top-Up Fund was formerly known as the Good Neighbour Energy Fund which started in 1997.

The home energy assistance top-up (HEAT) fund was formerly known as the good neighbour energy fund which started in 1997. (Laura Meader/CBC)

The program has existed since 1997 as the good neighbour energy fund. It was renamed in 2020.

Eligible Nova Scotians can apply only once every 24 months but the program opens for applications every year.

"By returning to the original application criteria and allowing applicants to apply once every 24 months, more of this year's budget will be available to those who need emergency home heating assistance this winter and did not apply last year," spokesperson Geoff Tobin said via email.

Tobin confirmed that those who applied last year were made aware the changes would be coming in 2024 — by phone and by email.

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