Franklin heating funds dwindle

Posted Feb. 17, 2011, at 6:17 a.m.
Last modified Feb. 17, 2011, at 11:57 a.m.

FARMINGTON — Emergency heating funds in Franklin County are dwindling with more than six weeks of winter remaining.

“Well over $100,000 has been spent in emergency heating funds on top of the $1.6 million in Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program funds in Franklin County this season,” Judith Frost, program manager of community services for Western Maine Community Action, said.

Those emergency funds include Farmington Area Ecumenical Ministry’s Ecu-Heat program, the Jay-Livermore Falls area Tri-Town Fund and Emergency Crisis Intervention Program funds, she said.

In just six months, $45,000 was donated to the ecumenical heating fund, and 270 households have received fuel assistance from it, Pastor Susan Crane, Ecu-Heat coordinator, said. Last year 222 households got assistance.

Area churches pool emergency fuel contributions through the Ecu-Heat fund that is administered by Western Maine Community Action.

Frost is now looking to other resources to help fill requests. With nearly $3,000 left from the $45,000 and an intent to keep an account balance, she has about $600 to use for 50-gallon deliveries of oil to households requesting emergency help.

“It’s a hard time choosing which three people to serve,” she said. “It takes between $168 to $188 to supply only 50 gallons.”

The costs reach nearly $200 for each request because of prices ranging to $3.50 per gallon for oil and more for kerosene, plus an added delivery charge. Most oil companies require at least a 100-gallon delivery and charge from $20 to $75 for smaller deliveries, Frost said.

A total of nearly 600 families here have received help from emergency funds in addition to 2,500 families receiving fuel assistance through LIHEAP.

State Emergency Crisis Intervention Program funds, an allotted $60,000, are down to less than $10,000. The Tri-Town Fund in the Jay-Livermore Falls area has provided $28,000 to serve 107 households but nothing is left. Although the state Keep ME Warm fund hasn’t been pushed this year, Western Maine Community Action has funneled $6,000 in help from it, Frost said. Now she continues to work steadily to certify people for LIHEAP funds, she said.

With anticipated budget cuts expected for LIHEAP, Frost thinks the county will be lucky to receive half of what was received this year.

“I’m really worried about what’s happening. It’s part of my job to look ahead to next year and prepare people for it,” she said.

That includes urging clients to really think and plan ahead. She suggests they take even just $25 to the oil company regularly to show they are making an effort. Budgeting the money doesn’t always work because something happens and it gets used, she said.

Clients who sought help from Ecu-Heat in October were warned February is coming, she said. The program can now only provide one 50-gallon delivery per household per season.

Started in 2005, the Ecu-Heat program originally provided 100 gallons but with the cost of fuel and number of families needing help, the amount was lowered this year, Crane said.

“A recent article in the Sun Journal pointed out that the cost of fuel oil in Maine has increased 300 percent since 1999. Twelve years ago, many families were able to make it through the winter with the help of the federal LIHEAP funds. Now there are far more families eligible for federal fuel assistance and the benefit only covers a portion of the cost of the winter’s fuel need,” Crane said.

Frost has seen several families this year who have zero income. Half of those who need help with fuel assistance are elderly, people who worked hard all their lives but could not have prepared for a three-fold increase in the cost of fuel, Crane added.

Donations are accepted at Ecu Heat, P.O. Box 147, Farmington, ME 04938. All gifts are tax-deductible and will be acknowledged, Crane said.

Copyright (c) 2011, Sun Journal, Lewiston, Maine

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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