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Choosing between heat, care

WASHINGTON -- Nearly four in 10 recipients of federal heating aid have sacrificed medical or dental care to pay their heating bills, according to a survey released yesterday by an organization of state aid administrators.

The National Energy Assistance Directors' Association, which represents the state directors of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, said the survey asked 2,161 recipients in 20 states (including Maine, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island) about choices they have made in the past year when faced with high energy bills. The US Department of Health and Human Services' Administration for Children and Families funded the survey.

The study found that 38 percent of the energy aid recipients went without medical or dental care for some period during the winter, 22 percent went without food for at least one day, 30 percent went without filling a prescription or taking the full dose of a prescribed medicine, and 21 percent said they became sick because their home was too cold.

Mark Wolfe, the executive director of the energy directors association, said the recipients in the Northeast fared better than their counterparts in other regions because these states often contribute other assistance.

''Massachusetts has a lot to be proud of," Wolfe said. ''Essentially, the state has a model program, with a very comprehensive approach to addressing energy needs."

State programs include additional financial help, weatherization assistance, and aid to repair or replace heating systems for households with incomes up to twice the federal poverty level, or $37,700 for a household of four, according to Health and Humans Services officials. Also, under state law, individuals with chronic health conditions cannot have their heat shut off.

In Massachusetts, 40 percent of the recipients are elderly and 53 percent are disabled.

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