BOSTON (AP) - The harsh New England winter is dragging down the regional economy as consumers spend more on heating their homes rather than on electronics, clothes or a dinner out.

The National Energy Assistance Directors' Association says the average winter heating bill in New England is expected to climb nearly $300, to about $1,700, up from $1,400 last winter.

Several major retailers have already blamed the harsh winter for contributing to disappointing sales and earnings.

The Boston Globe reports that in the Northeast, natural gas users - more than half of the region's households - are projected to pay an average of $1,100 this winter. Heating oil and propane customers will pay more than double that.

The impact is falling most heavily on the poor and elderly living on fixed incomes.