As reported by Jonathan Dame, Daily News:
FRAMINGHAM – An improved economy may mean fewer households are tapping into the financial help for winter heating bills, but questions about eligibility might be playing a role.
“There are probably hundreds, maybe thousands, of working people who don’t even realize they are eligible for our program,” said Elizabeth Berube, deputy director of the nonprofit Citizens for Citizens.
A person making less than $34,380 a year is eligible for the federal fuel assistance program. So is a family of four with an income of $66,115.
The agencies that administer the program have launched an awareness to make sure everyone qualified for the program takes advantage of it.
“No child, no senior, no family, no adult, no person should go cold in the wintertime,” said state Rep. Carmine Gentile, D-Sudbury. “Not only will it keep people warm, it allows us to check and see what other needs people have and how we can address those needs.”
Agencies associated with the Massachusetts Association for Community Action (MASSCAP) helped pay the heating bills of 160,000 households last winter. Around 42 percent of those households included someone with a job; nearly 44 percent included an elderly person.
MASSCAP held a statewide kickoff event for the first time ever on Friday at SMOC, hoping to draw more people in the program. Fewer households have been participating in recent years, which could be a sign of an improved economy.
In the Northeast, heating bills are expected to rise this winter: 4.2 percent for electricity customers and 9.9 percent for natural gas customers, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Nationally, heating oil bills are projected to increased 17.2 percent.
But MASSCAP expects to receive around the same amount of money from the federal government for the third year in a row. The state received $147 million last year, down from $200 million in 2010.
“What we’re finding is that we’re able to serve the people in need,” said Joseph Diamond, executive director of MASSCAP. “What we try to do is give people as much of the resource but it won’t last quite as long.”
Winter temperatures across the county are expected to be 13 percent colder this winter, although last winter was relatively warm, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Temperatures on the East Coast should be comparable to the average over the past five years, the agency predicts.
People who qualify for fuel assistance are also eligible to receive free energy-efficiency upgrades to their homes, such as insulation and air sealing.
“Every doctor knows that the way to do harm to a baby, the way to do serious harm to a baby, is to have the baby be cold,” Elaine Zimmerman, regional administrator of the U.S. Administration for Children and Families. “Every educator knows that if a child is not warm a child cannot learn.”
“Even if this seems like something you swore you would never do, do it.”