WOOLWICH, Maine — One of the toughest things Town Administrator Lynette Eastman does in her job is tell people who have no heat that they make too much money for emergency general assistance.
“It’s just unfortunate that some people who need it don’t qualify for general assistance,” said Eastman. “Their income is just a little over the limit.”
That’s why selectmen recently created the Woolwich Heating Assistance Fund to help individuals and families who make too much money for general assistance or the Low Income Heating Assistance Program. The town, which has modeled its program on those in nearby municipalities, began accepting donations Monday.
The program is intended to be supported entirely by tax-deductible donations.
“I just sent a letter out today, and I’ve already got a flood of responses,” said Eastman on Monday. “That bodes very well for the program.”
Many Maine municipalities have similar programs. Just north of Woolwich in Lincoln County, the Community Energy Fund, founded in 2005, surpassed $500,000 in donations earlier this year, which had helped more than 1,500 needy families.
Eastman said recipients of the program’s benefits — who must be residents of Woolwich — will fill out an application for general assistance and if they don’t qualify, will have their application transferred to the heating fund. The fund will provide up to 100 gallons of heating oil or kerosene, a cord of seasoned firewood, a ton of wood pellets, 50 gallons of liquid propane or $200 toward their electrical bill.
General assistance, which municipalities are required to provide for needy residents, has an income limit of a little more than $28,000 a year, which is 150 percent of the federal poverty rate. The Woolwich Heating Assistance Fund will provide fuel to a family of four that makes about $42,000 a year. Income limits for other families or individuals are available by calling the Woolwich Town Office at 442-8723.
Eastman said selectmen plan to begin soliciting donations in earnest this week by sending out letters to businesses and individuals. In her Monday letter, Eastman wrote that while most people don’t stress about paying for heat, the need for some is pronounced and at times dangerous
“Some of our Woolwich neighbors, well, they face a choice: Pay for oil or buy groceries, buy a gallon of kerosene or refill a prescription,” she wrote. “More likely, they will simply turn down the thermostat, skip filling the wood box, or, in more dire cases, turn on the gas stove to heat at least one room of the house. In pursuit of warmth, many people overlook the safety precautions, which can result in potentially tragic home fires.”
To donate to the program, checks should be made out to the Town of Woolwich Heating Assistance Fund and sent to 13 Nequasset Road, Woolwich, ME 04579.