During these winter months, the cost of heating homes weighs heavily on the minds of many Maine residents. This year, although there is good news because of lower fuel costs, there is still a significant demand for assistance.
The Governor's Energy Office conducted its weekly heating fuel price survey on December 28 and found the current statewide average cash price for No. 2 heating oil was $1.83 per gallon, down 9 cents over the past two weeks. This unprecedented fall in heating oil prices is because of continued declines in global crude oil prices. In December, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) decided to eliminate production caps, and the U.S. Congress voted to lift the decades-old ban on domestic crude oil exports.
The Washington Hancock Community Agency (WHCA) administers the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which helps pay for home heating costs. Benefits are based on a percentage of federal poverty levels. Lee Hardison, energy services director for WHCA, says applications "have been going great guns" in the Calais, Milbridge, Machias and Ellsworth offices, and at the end of December "$23,079 has been spent on heating assistance, with an average cost of $732 per household."
"The highest we've paid out was $1,400, but that was for an applicant at the lowest income level and a very high consumption rate."
Supplementing LIHEAP in emergencies is the Energy Crisis Intervention Program (ECIP). To qualify for ECIP, a household must have less than one-eighth of a tank of oil or about to be disconnected. ECIP can provided a minimum delivery not exceeding $400 of emergency heating assistance in life-threatening situations. Applicants for both LIHEAP and ECIP must call to make an appointment, as applications can take up to 30 business days to process. "When making an appointment, if the person can't come, we want them to call to cancel, so someone else can take their place," urges Hardison. "We schedule applicants every 20 minutes between 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m."
"I know if a day is warm, people don't think about fuel, but they need to keep their appointment," stresses Hardison. "If they don't show up, they'll have to wait two months for us to fit them in again. We live in Maine, and we know it's important to have enough fuel in the winter."
Eastport area fuel fund needs donations
Contributions have been low, but the Community Fuel Assistance Fund in the Eastport area has distributed 16 fuel vouchers this winter, reports Colin Windhorst, president of the Greater Eastport Ecumenical Churches Association, which oversees the fund. "That amounts to 1,600 gallons of fuel costing about $4,000."
"If they qualify, this year we are giving out $200 per household," he adds. "The price of fuel is low, so we shoot for 100 gallons."
Unfortunately, financial contributions to the fund have been slow in coming, says Windhorst. "People don't tend to think of it until they see snow on the ground."
The fuel assistance fund is supplemented by the Salvation Army voucher system, and the field secretaries are Colin and Ron Windhorst in Dennysville, who can be reached at 726-3905; Tami Dinsmore at the Regional Medical Center at Lubec at 733-5541; Ella Kowal at Eastport City Hall at 853-2300; and Pastor David Peterson of Robbinston at 454-0596.
Tax-free donations may be sent to Community Fuel Assistance Fund, c/o Ann Bellefleur, P.O. Box 250, Eastport, ME 04631.
Other assistance in Washington County
The small heating assistance fund for Calais residents at the Irene Chadbourne Ecumenical Food Pantry "is already out of funds," says Len Hanson. "But we're working on a large grant and throw fundraisers to build it back up." He adds, "Last year we gave out $16,000."
There was $10,500 on January 6 in the Lubec Senior Fuel Fund, which is administered by the Lubec Town Office and was created to help residents who are at least 60 years old, don't qualify for general assistance and have exhausted all assistance from other agencies such as LIHEAP. Five senior fuel fund clients have received 75 gallons of heating oil, so far, this winter.
The program runs from September 1 to May, and people are not turned away if they need more than one delivery of oil during the cold months.
Although the Machias Food Pantry has given out heating assistance in the past, food pantry director Suzie Maxwell says there are no monies available for that charity this year.