As Reported by Deb Allard, The Herald News, Fall River:
With winter on the way, Citizens for Citizens Inc. is accepting applications for its Fuel Assistance and Energy Efficiency program that starts Thursday, Nov. 1.
The Massachusetts Association for Community Action, and a host of local and state agencies and legislators, gathered Tuesday at CFC, 264 Griffin St., to spread awareness that the program is available to individuals and families in need of energy payment assistance.
U.S. Rep. Bill Keating said the fuel assistance program helps so many people — from single moms to families to elders living on a fixed income — save money on heat that can be used for food, rent and other necessities.
“It’s so important to get people signed up,” Keating said.
It’s also a conduit for getting people help in other programs and can “really change lives,” Keating said.
This year, the state took an $11 million cut to its Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program that trickles down to agencies like CFC for fuel assistance programs.
Elizabeth Berube, CFC deputy director, said the state will receive $136.4 million in comparison to $147.7 million last year. She said she doesn’t know yet how much will be allocated locally.
The amount awarded to individuals and families will be less than in previous years due to the cut. Berube estimated it to be $400 to $850, depending on income for this winter heating season Nov. 1, 2018 to April 30, 2019.
“Even with the budget cuts, we have money for new clients,” Berube said.
Income guidelines, established by the federal government, are based on gross family income. A family of four can make up to $68,289 to qualify for fuel assistance. A family of three can make $57,363. Two can gross $46,437. An individual can make $35,510 to qualify.
Rep. Carole Fiola said many people don’t “realize they can access fuel assistance funds.”
The program is available to those who are employed, unemployed and retired, and to families of all sizes.
For seniors on a fixed income, it can really help, Fiola said.
“Their funds don’t change when we have a cold winter,” Fiola said.
Fuel assistance is also considered a public health and safety matter.
Fall River Fire Chief John Lynch said those who can’t afford heat sometimes turn to “alternative sources of fuel,” like portable space heaters and cooking stoves, that can become a fire hazard. He urged people, also, to be sure they have smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in their homes.
Those unsure if they have working detectors or need assistance should contact their fire department who will come out and inspect their units.
Keating said: “It’s a public safety issue. It’s a public health issue.”
Keating said legislators are investigating the formula used to determine this year’s funding that led to the $11 million shortfall.
“This is to be discussed,” Keating said. “There is support across the aisle. We’re going to work together.”
In the meantime, Keating said: “Let’s get people signed up.”
CFC serves Fall River, Assonet, Freetown, Somerset, Swansea, Seekonk, Westport, Taunton, Berkley, Dighton and Lakeville.
Those who wish to apply can visit CFC each Monday to Thursday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (until 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday), and on Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon. On Friday, only emergencies will be handled from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. For information, call 508-679-0041, visit http://cfcinc.org/ or email Garth Patterson at firstname.lastname@example.org