The average U.S. household spends 5 to 6 percent of its income on home fuels, but the low-income elderly and disabled spend 19 percent even after receipt of federal fuel subsidies, according to a report by Project EnergyCare of the National Council of Senior Citizens.

The organization used these percentages in criticizing administration proposals to cut fuel-aid and welfare programs. It said low-income elderly people would have to chose whether to "heat or eat."

In winter, the group said, one of every four elderly poor households spends more than 40 percent of its income on heating bills, and for aged welfare clients, the average monthly winter heating bill for the coldest month in 12 states equals or exceeds the maximum welfare payment for an individual.

In nine other states, it said, "less than $25 a week remains of the Supplememental Security Income payments after energy bills are paid."

The study, based on a survey of 24,000 households of elderly and disabled poor in 38 states, also concluded that for those heating with oil--about 17 percent--the costs are far higher than for those using natural gas.

Though gas generally consumed a much smaller proportion of income in every region, the authors said that the cost of natural gas appears to be rising rapidly and could increase the economic problems of older people enormously.

When gas prices are fully decontrolled in the next few years, the study said, they are expected to rise to the same as that for oil per unit of heat.