In light of rising heating costs for the coming winter, assistance for those struggling to afford heating fuel will increase 60 percent, Gov. Chris Sununu and the state Department of Energy announced Thursday.

Last year, households that qualified based on income could receive anywhere from $158 to $1,575; this winter, aid is starting at $253, with eligible families receiving as much as $2,520 in grants to cover heating costs. Aid is calculated based on income, household size, housing type, and fuel type, and the money is given as a grant, which does not have to be paid back.

That money is available through the N.H. Fuel Assistance Program, which receives federal funds. The state recently accepted $35 million in federal stimulus money for the program, more than doubling the amount available in grants compared to last year. And in early November, the state’s congressional delegation announced an additional $25 million in funding had been secured for the program.

The program covers any kind of heating fuel, and those making up to 60 percent of the state median income are eligible. For example, that would amount to $37,696 per year or less for an individual and $72,493 per year or less for a family of four. The program runs from Dec. 1 through April 30, so heating bills between that time can be covered by the benefit.

The increase in the program is in step with the rising cost of fuel. Those heating with natural gas can expect a 29 percent hike in their heating bill, while heating oil is projected to increase by 39 percent. Propane is even higher, with projections that it could increase by as much as 46 percent.

Those predictions, from the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s November forecast, take into account a colder than average winter. If the winter is warmer, heating costs would still increase but less drastically. But if the winter is colder, heating costs would increase more dramatically.

Gov. Sununu called the expensive winter heating season ahead one of the most pressing issues in the state.

If you need help paying for fuel, contact your local Community Action Agency to apply.

This story originally appeared in the N.H. Bulletin.