PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — After seeing a dip in the number of people seeking services last winter, the Aroostook County Action Program is seeing a resurgence in those looking for help to pay their heating bills this winter.
Jason Parent, executive director of the Aroostook County Action Program, said Monday that the agency saw a drop last winter of more than 500 over the previous year in the number of people who submitted applications for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which assists eligible customers with home heating costs, whether they use wood, electric, gas or oil heat.
The Aroostook County Action Program also has an Energy Crisis Intervention Program, which provides emergency funds to people on a limited bases who are qualified for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program and their tanks are low or out of fuel.
He said that it may be because last year was a warmer winter, where less heating fuel was needed, and this is a more typical winter, with temperatures that reflect it. At the same time, the resurgence may be because of heating fuel prices slowly creeping up.
According to the Governor’s Energy Office, which released a heating fuel price survey the last week of December, the statewide average cash price for No. 2 heating oil was $2.22 per gallon at the time. That price was up 8 cents, or 3.7 percent, over the previous two weeks. The average statewide kerosene prices also increased over the same time period. The average statewide kerosene price increased 9 cents, or 3.4 percent, and as of Dec. 28 was at $2.75 per gallon.
Propane went up slightly less, from $2.31 in November to $2.35 on Dec. 28.
The average statewide price for customers heating with oil, kerosene and propane was up 4 cents over the previous two weeks to $2.39 per gallon on Dec. 28, according to the Governor’s Energy Office.
“We had a very atypical winter last year,” said Parent. “You don’t see that too often. So we saw a high number of people who either didn’t fill out an application or had an appointment and didn’t show up for it.”
According to statistics provided by Parent, in 2013, 5,474 people applied for assistance and 4,615 received it. In 2014, 5,267 applied for help and 4,283 received it. In 2015, 5,557 asked for assistance and 4,729 received it. In 2016, 5,011 asked for help and 4,151 received it.
People not showing up for appointments was something that concerned officials at the Aroostook County Action Program.
“We were really worried about that, despite the temperatures,” he said. “We never want to see that, because we have heard the horror stories in Aroostook County about people who have had to choose medication over food for themselves. So we always want people to come in.”
Parent said that officials at the Aroostook County Action Program are booked into February with people waiting for appointments. He said that the slots are filled by a cross section of people from The County, including the elderly, the working poor and single parent families.
“We are already ahead of where we projected we would be as far as turning around applications,” he said. “We work a lot on outreach, because we have applicants from Houlton all the way up to Madawaska. We also send people into the Allagash region a couple of times a year and have a partnership with the Aroostook Area Agency on Aging, who give out fliers to alert the elderly.”
Parent said that they typically take appointments into April, and he said it is never too late for someone who needs assistance to come in.
The average benefit for heating assistance has been about $800, said Parent.
To connect with an official from the Aroostook County Action Program, call 800-432-7881.