LEO Keeping Lynn Warm With Heat Help

As reported by Thor Jourgensen, Item Live:

With a part-time income barely covering her rent, Jennifer Caruso came to Lynn Economic Opportunity on Thursday to get heating assistance. She walked out of the Broad Street agency with the information she needed as well as a coat for herself and another for her 10 month-old daughter.

“For a single mom, it’s good to get help,” Caruso said.

The health aide is one of 3,300 LEO clients who have applied this year for help paying their heating bills. LEO provided fuel assistance in 2015 to 3,500 clients, said community services director Darlene Gallant, with $3.4 million in taxpayer money.

LEO to date has received $2.9 million in assistance this year, but there are two significant differences characterizing heating aid help in 2016 compared to 2015. Listed at $1.49 a gallon on Thursday, heating oil costs half as much as it did a year ago. Warm late fall and early winter weather continued into January, prompting LEO clients to delay requests for heating help.

“We have plenty of money; people should come in and apply,” Gallant said.

The agency’s maximum assistance benefit is about $1,000 and Timson Street resident Marleny Lopez signed up on Thursday at LEO for help paying her natural gas and electrical heating bills. A homeowner, Lopez estimated her electric heating bill is $200 a month in the winter.

“Electricity is so expensive. It’s a lot less in the summer,” she said.

Gallant said electric heat users are eligible for bill discounts and she said LEO and other heating assistance providers are waiting to see if more assistance money is provided later in the winter.

Lopez said help from LEO will, in turn, allow her to have more money to spend caring for her three children. She works as a customer service representative but said LEO’s assistance will allow her to stretch her household dollars to cover other costs.

“This is the best place to come,” she said.

Caruso said LEO’s fuel assistance program will help her turn her attention to finding and figuring out how to pay for child care for her daughter, Daphne Thomson. Caruso wants to take a certificate course at the North Shore Career Center and improve her job skills.

“If I get child care, I can start as soon as possible,” she said.

Gallant said LEO’s goal is to guide agency clients down the road of self-sufficiency by assembling the assistance they need to be able to work, pay their bills and care for their children.

“The only way out of poverty is to work your way out,” she said.

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