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Heating Assistance programs unveiled

With a record number of early applications for heating assistance already filed, homeowners and renters who may qualify are encouraged to apply now. That was the message shared with 100 nonprofit and community leaders who attended a heating assistance forum Thursday at the Doyle Center in Leominster, MA. 

"Even with a record number of applicants this early in the season, we continue to see individuals and families who do not apply because they are too proud to ask for assistance," noted Keith Freischlag, energy efficiency program coordinator for Unitil, who sponsored the meeting in partnership with United Way of North Central Massachusetts. 

John Keeney of New England Farm Workers' Council, which manages the Federal Fuel Assistance program, said a family of four with a household gross income of $56,011 or less would qualify for the program. For a single person, the income figure is $29,126. "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.

Those who do not qualify for Federal Fuel Assistance, but may need assistance, can contact the Salvation Army. The Good Neighbor Energy Fund provides a heating assistance benefit of up to $300 for the year. For more information, interested individuals may call the Salvation Army at 1-978-342-9407.

Freischlag also reviewed other programs for income-qualified customers, including special weatherization, budget billing and 

Unitil_Energy_Forum_102909_Freischlag_2.jpg
 Keith Freischlag, energy efficiency coordinator for Unitil

discount energy rates.                                                                         

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.

Unitil offers a budget billing program, to make monthly utility bills more affordable by leveling out higher seasonal energy bills, which are spread out throughout the year.

In addition, customers qualify for a discount rate on natural gas or electricity, when eligible for fuel assistance.    Customers can also be eligible for the discount rate if they qualify for other programs such as SSI, school lunch or MassHealth.  A full list of these other programs is available through public utility companies.  

There is also an Arrears Forgiveness Program, which provides up to $1,200 in relief on outstanding balances, for clients who pay their utility bills on time.  

For customers who are over the income limit for low-income programs, Unitil offers the MassSave program. Homeowners save up to 75% on installation costs with rebates up to $4,000 for investing in recommended energy efficiency improvements. To learn more about any of Unitil's programs, customers may call 1-888-301-7700.

Phil Grzewinski, president 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 the winter months. For more information, agencies can call the United Way of North Central Massachusetts at 978-345-1577.