Editorial: Feds have role to play in heat aid (Burlington Free Press)

Turning to the federal government for money is no path to a long-term solution, but it is exactly the right thing to do when a state can no longer cope with what is shaping up to be a potential disaster. That's exactly where our state stands as the heating season approaches with record-high fuel prices threatening to leave many Vermonters in the cold.

That's why it is imperative that Congress approve $9 billion in heating aid requested by Northeast lawmakers as the economic stimulus package House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is considering. The need for assistance can become critical in Vermont, where 60 percent of homes use fuel oil for heat.

Prices typically peak in late summer or early autumn, but the recent fuel market trends defy normal seasonal price cycles. That means without a change in the market, people who run out of heating fuel during the winter could end up paying even more than fuel dealers are charging today.

What the inflation report clearly shows is that higher fuel prices affect everyone, pushing up prices for just about everything, including other necessities such as food. The potential domino effect is frightening.

More families will be pushed to seek help to put food on the table and to keep the house warm, thus placing greater demand on already taxed government resources. Private charities, too, will see more people coming through their doors at a time when those who traditionally donate time or money face their own increasing financial pressures.

As the economy springs one leak after another, Washington has rushed to the aid of major corporations and financial institutions with taxpayer dollars on the theory that they are too big to fail, that their failure would have too great an impact on the nation's economy.

Washington should be equally eager to help families who face a long, cold winter due to the same economic ills, more so because the heating crisis they face is not of their making. If the alternative is to let families starve or freeze, we have little choice but to help.