ELLSWORTH, Maine — City residents struggling with fuel costs will have some extra help this winter.
The city has established a discretionary fuel fund designed to assist residents who cannot receive state aid through the city’s regular general assistance fund.
“We created this fund for people who are just above the maximum level for assistance from the state,” said Tina Howes, the city’s general assistance administrator. “It’s to help people who are not eligible for help from the state.”
During the past 12 months, the city’s general assistance program has interviewed 403 people seeking assistance and provided help to 308 of those who applied, Howes said. She added that she anticipated an increase in requests for aid when fuel prices skyrocketed earlier this year. Heating oil prices have decreased, she said, but there is still a need.
“We had people calling, and they said they knew they were over the limits, but they were just looking to see if there was something that could help,” she said. “I felt so bad. You want to help them, but they’re just a few dollars over and you can’t. They’re just over, and you know that they’re out there working hard to make ends meet.”
Howes said she wrote up guidelines for the program and discussed it with local businesses, which were supportive of the idea.
The discretionary fuel fund is a dedicated fund strictly to help with fuel costs, Howes said. While general assistance provides help with obtaining necessities including food and utilities, the money in the new fund will be used for fuel assistance only, she said.
One problem that has arisen is that some residents, concerned about heating oil prices, filled their oil tanks earlier in the year and now are in need of assistance for other necessities, including food, rent and utilities, Howes said.
“We’ve seen a huge increase in requests for help with rent and utilities,” she said.
Although she plans to use the regular general assistance application for those seeking help from the fuel fund, Howe said eligibility would not be determined by income levels, as with general assistance.
“It will strictly be based on need,” she said.
The city allocated a small amount to create the discretionary fund, and Howe said she hopes to keep that base amount in the fund so it can continue next year. Her initial goal was to raise $20,000 for the fund.
So far, donations, mainly from area businesses, have built the fund to around $9,000. That amount includes about $1,000 raised through the Ellsworth Area Chamber of Commerce whoopie pie sale last year.
In addition, Howes said she is expecting donations from businesses that participated in the Ellsworth Downtown Business Association’s second Make A Difference Day, which was held before Christmas. Participating businesses will donate a portion of the day’s sales to the fund.
“I haven’t publicized the fund until I was sure there was going to be enough money there,” she said.
She encouraged others to consider donating if they can, and said donations create a “win-win” situation. The fund benefits people who are in need, she said, while businesses and individuals can claim their donations on their tax returns.
For more information about the fund, to donate or to apply for assistance, contact Howes at Ellsworth City Hall, 667-2563, ext. 128.