Will today’s pain at the pump become October’s shock at home?

Fri, 07/08/2022 - 8:45am

    Local, county and state agencies urge residents to start preparing now for what may well be an expensive heating oil surprise in a few months. According to the Governor’s Energy Office on June 27, the average cash price per gallon for No. 2 fuel oil in Maine was $5.36 compared with the average price last October of $2.85.

    If prices remain the same this fall, costs to fill a 275-gallon oil tank would almost double, going from $784 last October to $1,474. A number of local, state and county agencies are watching heating oil prices and trying to determine how best to handle the expected increase in requests for assistance.

    In other years, customers have been able to take advantage of budget payments, contract pricing and low price guarantees. With a few exceptions, inquiries to area heating oil companies over the past weeks were met with responses ranging from “Check back next month“ to “No contracts or price protection this year.”

    A form of budget billing is being offered by some, but it is based on the cash price at the time of delivery. These plans have pre-determined monthly payments but at the end of the season, the account holder will have to reconcile any difference between the payments and the actual cost of the oil at the time it was delivered.

    According to the Governor’s Energy Office website, “Maine is the most home heating oil-dependent state in the nation, with more than 60% of homes relying on fuel oil to keep warm in the winter, compared to roughly 4% nationally.”

    So what are your options?

    Most assistance programs offered can help but won’t pay your entire heating bill for the season. 

    In a recent phone interview with the Boothbay Register, Maine State Housing Authority (MaineHousing) Director Daniel Brennan said, “It is an area of concern and we don’t expect (fuel) prices to go down too soon.”

    “I have reached out to the Governor’s office, who was having meetings with the Congressional delegation, suggesting they ask for more money.  I have not made any specific request, to date, but would certainly do so if the opportunity arises,” Brennan said.

    For the 2021-22 heating season, MaineHousing received around $38 million in a grant from the federal government for statewide heating assistance. An additional $55 million was provided last year in a supplemental grant. MaineHousing administers funds through area community action agencies (CAAs).

    MaineHousing has several energy assistance programs, including Low Income Assistance Plan (LIAP) for electricity, Heat Pump Program, Weatherization Program and Central Heating Improvement Program.

    The Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) pays to help with heating bills, covering “...all heating fuels, including wood, pellets, biobricks, natural gas, and coal, although the bulk of it is No. 2 fuel oil,” explained MaineHousing Communications Director Scott Thistle.

    “There is an Emergency Crisis Intervention Program, (ECIP) for those who find themselves in a true heating emergency. This program is also funded with HEAP dollars and allows rapid delivery of up to 100 gallons of fuel, if an eligible household has less than a seven-day supply of heating fuel available, or has run out of fuel,” Thistle said. ECIP is only available between Nov. 1 and April 30.

    During the current season which ends July 15, the HEAP program received 983 applications from Lincoln County residents. Of these, 729 applicants were certified eligible for HEAP. Some are still being processed and 77 applications were voided because they were either incomplete or unsigned.

    According to Brennan, the numbers show that only one in four or five who are income eligible actually apply. Once people apply and are accepted, they are covered through next summer.

    Thistle said, “HEAP eligibility is the gateway for a variety of energy programs that MaineHousing offers including programs that provide grants for heat pumps and weatherization.”

    There is more information about these energy programs at https://www.mainehousing.org/programs-services/energy

    The agency handling applications for HEAP in Lincoln County is Kennebec Valley Community Action Program (KVCap) which will begin scheduling and processing applications for the upcoming season starting on July 18, Thistle explained. The website is: https://www.kvcap.org/for-the-home/energy-housing-services-overview/. New this year is an online HEAP application which launches Aug. 29.

    Hannah Corkum, Community Navigator with the Community Resource Council (https://www.crcboothbay.org/) will help residents with the HEAP application but they must contact KVCap first. Corkum said finding the income guidelines to see if you are eligible is “...as simple as going on the website. But it does change from year to year so if someone wasn’t eligible last year they might be this year.” Here is the link to the guidelines: https://www.mainehousing.org/charts/HEAP-Income-Elibility

    Although calls for heating oil haven’t started yet, Corkum said the CRC has received calls for wood deliveries to begin in August and they have seen a significant increase in wood deliveries corresponding to the increase in fuel prices. The CRC’s Woodchucks program provides firewood for heat based on income eligibility.

    The CRC also has a fuel fund which, according to its website, provides “...financial assistance and referrals for home heating needs. The Fuel Fund runs from November 15–April 15.” Last year, the fund provided 6151 gallons of fuel to 63 families on the peninsula, Corkum said.

    Corkum encourages those who need assistance to contact her office at 350-1743. She points out that the CRC may be able to help with other types of financial assistance so households have funds for heat. “People that typically don’t require assistance may need help this year,” she added. “It’s OK to ask for help.”

    Todd Maurer is president of Community Energy Fund of Lincoln County (https://www.communityenergyfund.com/) which started 16 years ago and provides heating assistance “...to those who might not qualify for other programs but are just a small bit away from needing help,” he told the Register recently. Applicants contact their town office and CEF schedules and arranges for a delivery from their energy supplier. 

    “We are a fully volunteer organization,” Maurer explained. “And every dollar raised goes to help people.” According to Maurer, last year the organization provided $170,000 to those needing help in Lincoln County.

    Maurer anticipates the demand for help will be “huge” this year.  He encourages anyone who has a balance on their account to pay it off if possible before the new season begins. “If you have an oil or propane supplier, work on a plan to get it paid down because it’s not going to help you to bounce from company to company,” he said.

    “A wonderful quilt”

    Keep ME Warm is a program that combines the efforts of Maine’s United Ways and CAAs. According to its website, it is “The only statewide fuel assistance fundraising effort in the state of Maine.”  Nicole Evans, director of development for United Way of Mid Coast Maine, explains that emergency heating assistance funds are distributed by a number of organizations in Lincoln County. Of the KeepMEWarm donated funds, 65% go to the CAAs, Maine’s United Ways receive 25%, and 10% goes to 2-1-1 Maine.

    More information can be found at info@uwmcm.org

    Evans also encouraged those in an emergency situation to call 211, Maine’s 24/7 hotline for help connecting with heating assistance and other services.

    211 is available by phone, text or email and the website is: https://211maine.org/

    211’s Contact Center Manager Derek Morin explained, “We field several thousand calls from Mainers (every year) who need short-term and long-term energy cost assistance. In general, if you’re in need, call 211 for help.”

    As Evans said of the organizations helping Mainers in need of heating assistance, “Together, we make a wonderful quilt.”

    Eastern Lincoln County’s CHIP, (Community Housing Improvement Project) founded in 1984, provides emergency home repairs and energy assistance to families in need at no cost in addition to serviceable appliances, water heaters and furniture. Its website is: https://www.chipinc.org/

    Dru Barkelow, president of its board of directors, explained, “Most recipients of CHIP's services are elderly, disabled, or single parents with kids, often unable to afford both food and fuel, and without assistance would be forced to choose one or the other.”

    CHIP’s emergency heating assistance includes kerosene, oil, propane, electricity and firewood.

    As explained by Project Manager Brittany Gill in an email, “CHIP offers a one-time, 100-gallon delivery ... per heating season. Anyone unable to pay for a minimum delivery is welcome to call once between November and March. The number to use: 677-3450. Best for folks to reach out at 1/4 tank, so that there is time for the delivery.”

    According to Gill, last year CHIP provided 100 gallons of heating fuel or one cord of firewood to each of 245 households, spending more than $75,000. CHIP recently received a grant from United Way. 

    Towns served by CHIP are: Alna, Bremen, Bristol, Damariscotta, Jefferson, Newcastle, Nobleboro, Somerville, South Bristol, Waldoboro and Whitefield.

    According to Charles E. Sherman American Legion Post # 36 Commander David Patch, two programs provide heating assistance for veterans. Through Veterans Emergency Financial Assistance Program, veterans meeting certain requirements can receive $2,000 per year for fuel assistance. The state provides Bureau of Veterans Services with $250,000 per year for VEFAP which contracts with the American Legion Department of Maine to administer it.

    For veterans who aren’t eligible or have used the $2,000 from VEFAP, Maine Veterans in Need program is available to help with a variety of services including heating fuel. “It’s the only program I know of available 24/7 for veterans on an emergency basis,” Patch said.

    The Veterans in Need organization is funded through donations, does not receive government funds and also serves as a conduit for other veterans’ resources, connecting veterans to the appropriate programs. “If there isn’t help through other resources,” Patch said, “we’ll do it.”     

    Check with your bank

    Another area to explore are special or short-term savings accounts that may be available at your bank to help save for winter heating bills. Check with your bank for more information.

    And as CHIP’s Dru Barkelow suggested, “For those that can help out, this is the year.”

    If you don’t need assistance ...

    Count your blessings and consider a contribution to:

    Community Resource Council 350-1743

    https://www.crcboothbay.org/donate

    Community Energy Fund of Lincoln County 563-3883

    https://www.communityenergyfund.com/take-action

    Tax-deductible donations: The Community Energy Fund Of Lincoln County, P.O. Box 40, Bristol ME 04539

    Community Housing Improvement Project (CHIP)  677-3450

    https://www.chipinc.org/donate/

    KeepMEWarm Fund 443-9752

    Contact United Way of Mid Coast Maine

    info@uwmcm.org

    Maine Veterans In Need Program 633-4487

    Tax-deductible donations made out to MVN.

    Send to: 62 Pegasus Drive, Brunswick, ME 04011