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Heating assistance programs available

Nov. 13, 2013, Gardner, Mass. – The Unitil Corporation and United Way is urging residents to be aware of all fuel assistance programs available to assist with heating costs as winter approaches.

That was the message shared with over 50 nonprofit and community leaders who attended a heating assistance forum Wednesday at the Colonial Hotel. The forum was hosted jointly by Unitil and the United Way of North Central Massachusetts.

“We are encouraging people not to wait to apply for fuel assistance,” Derek Kimball, residential energy efficiency programs coordinator for Unitil said.

John Keeney of New England Farm Workers’ Council, which manages the Federal Fuel Assistance program, said a family of four with a household income of $61,664 or less would qualify for the program. For a single person, the income figure is $32,065.

“Apply for these programs as soon as possible, and please do not wait until you’re in financial trouble before asking for help,” Keeney said.

The federal Weatherization Assistance Program, managed by the Montachusett Opportunity Council, provides no-cost energy saving improvements, such as insulation and heating system repairs, to homeowners who meet income guidelines.

Sue Corson, customer assistance program coordinator for Unitil, reviewed the utility company’s budget billing program, which makes monthly utility bills more affordable by leveling out higher seasonal energy bills, which are spread out throughout the year.

In addition, customers may qualify for a discount rate on natural gas or electricity, depending on household size and income. Unitil works with the New England Farm Workers Council to approve customers for the discount rate as well as other agencies that provide public benefits.

Customers who qualify for the discount rate, have an overdue balance of  $300 or more and who enter into a payment agreement to pay their current utility bills on time, may be eligible to participate in the Arrears Forgiveness Program, which provides up to $1,200 in relief per year, per service on their outstanding balances.  

For customers who are over the income limit for low-income programs, Unitil offers the MassSave program, which provides a 75 percent rebate of up to $2,000 to install energy saving home improvements, such as insulation, air sealing and Energy Star lighting products. Customers may also be eligible for interest free loans of up to $25,000 on qualifying energy efficiency upgrades.

“Forums like today help get the word out about on these programs,” Unitil Media Relations Manager Alec O’Meara said. “All too often, a family which could make use of these services never makes the call simply because they didn’t know help was available. These programs exist to help you. If you need help, call.”

Kathy Heintz, director of community impact of United Way of North Central Massachusetts, told listeners about a program being administered by United Way of North Central Massachusetts that provides emergency relief to homeless people who cannot find shelter during extreme winter weather events. For more information, agencies can call the United Way of North Central Massachusetts at 978-345-1577.

To learn more about any of Unitil’s programs, customers may call 1-888-301-7700.