U.S. consumers are expected to pay record prices for heating oil, electricity and propane to warm their homes this winter, and low-income families will need government help to cover those bills, government energy officials said on Tuesday.

Heating fuel expenses this winter will be highest for heating oil, with the average family paying $1,834 for the season, up 28 percent or $402 from last year, according to the National Energy Assistance Directors' Association.

The group expects propane costs to average $1,732, up 30 percent or $384. Consumers that rely on electricity for heat will pay $883 this winter, up 7 percent or $58.

Natural gas expenses will be the cheapest of the major heating fuels, averaging $881, up 5 percent or $50, the group said.

Mark Wolfe, the group's executive director, called on the Bush administration to immediately release money from the government's Low Income Home Energy Program, commonly known as LIHEAP, to help poor families pay their heating bills as well as cover past-due high cooling bills from the summer.

"These record prices will place a significant burden on low and moderate income families this winter with record high prices," Wolfe said.

The group points out that poor households pay a higher share of their income for heating costs than other families.

During 2005, energy expenses accounted for 20 percent of the income of households that received LIHEAP assistance, compared to only 3 percent for higher income families.

The group's report is based on preliminary heating fuel estimates from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The EIA, which is the Energy Department independent analytical arm, will issue its official winter forecast on October 9.