FILE - Electric Power Meter Usage High Voltage Post Energy Electricity Bill

(The Center Square) – New Hampshire residents will be getting more financial relief from the state to help offset rising energy costs, which are expected to spike this fall and winter.

A proposal approved by the state Legislature on Thursday will provide much-needed energy assistance relief payments of up to $650 for middle-income consumers who qualify.

The relief targets middle-income families earning up to 75% of the state's median income, who can now apply for up to $450 in heating assistance and another $200 in electricity assistance. Previously, the aid was available only to those earning up to 60% of median income. Money for the $46 million plan will come from the state's surplus revenues.

Gov. Chris Sununu, who signed the bill shortly after it landed on his desk, said the relief will help inflation-wary consumers afford energy costs that are expected to skyrocket.

"New Hampshire just delivered the largest energy relief package this state has ever seen, helping families in need this winter – using our state surplus funds," he said in a statement.

The plan is different from one Sununu submitted to the Legislature last month for consideration, which called for spending $60 million in surplus funding to provide every household $100 in energy assistance, but that plan was rejected by lawmakers who complained the financial aid would go to families that didn't need the assistance.

Sununu, a Republican who is seeking a fourth term as governor in November, didn't quibble over the changes and quickly signed the bill.

"Thanks to strong fiscal management, New Hampshire is able to invest state-surplus funds to help families get through this winter," he said.

In July, the Executive Council approved a plan to provide a one-time $405 rebate for thousands of low-income residents that get assistance from the state through the state's Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

Money for the rebates, which will cost nearly $1 million, will come from the state's share of federal American Rescue Plan Act funds allocated for fuel assistance.

Under the LIHEAP program, New Hampshire residents who earn 60% of the state median income are eligible for assistance paying for fuel, electricity and weatherization upgrades.

An individual with income of $38,969 or less is eligible for assistance, while the maximum level for a family of four is $74,941 a year, according to the department.

Record high inflation, ongoing supply chain issues and Russia's protracted war in Ukraine have disrupted global energy markets, driving prices for natural gas higher.

New Hampshire's energy prices are already among the highest in the nation, with the average resident spending $4,078 a year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Low income and minority communities are disproportionately impacted by the higher energy costs, the federal agency said.

This winter, the cost of electricity in New Hampshire is expected to soar by at least 50%, which will increase the squeeze on energy consumers.