While New Englanders are no strangers to the cold, for many Massachusetts families, this winter has been an enormous burden. Even though the price of heating oil has fallen, the downturn in the economy and almost daily news of layoffs are leaving many residents worried about how they will continue to keep their homes warm.
In a very difficult funding environment, Gov. Deval Patrick made a compelling case in Washington, coupled with a newly formed Winter Energy Costs Task Force, to nearly double the state’s federal heating assistance allocation from $114 million to $212 million this winter. Funding for low-income weatherization also increased to $13 million. This money is vital for residents on a fixed or limited income.
But the money will not do any good if those who need it don’t know how to access the resources.
One very successful initiative that’s available is “Energy Bucks,” a partnership between Massachusetts utility companies, the Low-Income Energy Affordability Network (LEAN) and local community action programs. Energy Bucks educates residents about fuel assistance, discounts on utility rates and energy efficiency programs.
These services can help save qualified families up to 30 percent on their energy bills by insulating and weatherizing their homes, repairing or replacing heating systems, receiving discount rates for electric and gas, installing energy-efficient appliances and obtaining fuel assistance. By spreading the word about the resources available, Energy Bucks links residents to programs that will help them stretch their dollars as budgets get tighter.
There is no time to waste; the deadline to apply for this year’s assistance program is April 30. Young children and elderly residents are particularly vulnerable to the stresses of the winter months, and it’s vital to get people assistance when they need it. Interested residents can go the Energy Bucks Web site (http://www.energybucks.com) or call 1-866-LESSCOST to find their local community action program, which will help determine eligibility, explain the programs and walk them through the application process.
There are also actions residents themselves can take to reduce their energy use. Simple steps like taking showers versus baths, which use 40 percent less hot water, and turning off and unplugging TVs and computers when not in use can make a real difference in their energy bills.
By educating people about their options, we can help them stay healthy. Our elected officials will keep fighting for funding, and the Energy Bucks partnership will work to make sure no one gets left in the cold.