“It’s palpable, really, how anxious people in the community are about it.”
Community service agencies say requests for home heating assistance were increasing even before National Grid – the power company that serves many in the area – announced energy prices could jump nearly 60% by November 1.
Requests for help with the cost of delivered fuels like home heating oil are also unusually high, with prices expected to jump 30% in the next few months.
Mary Knittle is director of energy resources at Worcester Community Action Council, which serves western and central Massachusetts.
She said on top of the thousands of applications already processed, the number of first-time applicants asking for help with delivered fuel costs compared to last year is up more than 200%.
“It’s palpable, really, how anxious people in the community are about it,” said Knittle. “And probably a lot of folks who maybe never really thought they would need the help are going to apply for the first time.”
But Knittle said she wants people to know the income eligibility to participate in the fuel assistance program is quite high. A family of four can earn up to $81,000 and still receive a benefit.
She encouraged people to call their local service agency, or to apply at ‘HeatingHelpMA.org.’
The federal government has allocated an additional $37 million to Massachusetts for energy assistance, but those who field calls from working parents and retired seniors looking for help predict they’ll need more.
Joe Diamond is the executive director of Massachusetts Association for Community Action (MASSCAP), a coalition of more than 20 Community Action Agencies.
He said MASSCAP has requested the state tag on an additional $50 million to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program to help people stay warm through the winter.
“We don’t ask them every year, but in years when there is a crisis, we do,” said Diamond. “And the legislature and the governor have been so responsive.”
Diamond said his agency is streamlining the application process for heating help through ‘HeatingHelpMA.org,’ working to ensure that anyone who qualifies for public benefits automatically becomes eligible for heating assistance.
Kathryn Carley began her career in community radio, and is happy to be back, covering the New England region for Public News Service. Getting her start at KFAI in Minneapolis, Carley graduated from the University of Minnesota and then worked as a reporter for Minnesota Public Radio, focusing on energy and agriculture. Moving to Washington, D.C., she filed stories for The Pacifica Network News and The Pacifica Report. Later Carley worked as News Host for New York Public Radio, WNYC as well as Co-Anchor for Newsweek’s long running radio program, Newsweek on Air. Carley also served as News Anchor for New York Times Radio. She now lives near Boston, MA.