Heating assistance applications available

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BETHEL – State Rep. Timothy Carter, D-Bethel, would like his constituents to know that applications for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) will be accepted early this year, and residents can make an appointment now with Community Concepts to apply for heating assistance this winter.

The Maine State Housing Authority administers LIHEAP, using funds provided by the federal government to help low-income Mainers purchase heating fuels, including oil. Organizations across the state, like Community Concepts, manage the program locally and schedule appointments for applications and delivery.

“I strongly encourage my constituents who are eligible for this program to take advantage of the early application,” said Carter. “It may seem like it’s too early to start preparing for winter now, but when temperatures start to fall, and so long as oil prices continue to climb, this program will be in high demand and the funds will be stretched thin until the federal government responds adequately to the looming energy crisis facing us this winter.”

The program is designed to help low-income Mainers purchase heating fuels. There are different income limits for households of all sizes, from one person up to eight. For example, income eligibility is $15,600 or less for individuals and $31,800 or less for a family of four. Households with senior citizens or children age 2 and under will get first priority, and the income limits for those homes are $17,680 for an individual and $36,040 for a family of four. The average benefit is expected to be around $417 per household this year, which at current rates would purchase about one-third of a tank of oil.

In recent years, the U.S. Congress has released additional emergency funds for the program during the winter season. Carter said he is working with his colleagues in the Legislature and Gov. John Baldacci to urge Congress to appropriate more funds for the program this year, as demand and costs have risen so sharply.

Last year, the state received a total of $38 million after a series of emergency funds were released throughout the winter. So far this year, $17 million in federal funding has been appropriated to Maine for LIHEAP. There are no projections for additional funds to be released at this time.

Applicants will be notified in the fall if they’ve been approved and the total dollar amount that they will receive, though Carter encourages eligible constituents to apply now in order to beat the rush. Thousands of households are expected to apply when the weather gets cold, and applying now will prevent a request from being held up for weeks or months with winter looming.

Maine homeowners and renters in Oxford and Franklin Counties can apply now for assistance by calling Community Concepts at 743-7716 to set up an appointment. Western Maine Community Action Program is also administering LIHEAP funds, though a representative from the agency said they won’t begin accepting applications until August 1. For further information from Western Maine CAP, call 645-3764.

In addition to LIHEAP, there are other state resources available for Mainers of all incomes to save on energy costs, and Carter encourages constituents to contact him for more information by phone at 824-7698 or by e-mail at oldfarmer@excite.com. A new state Web site http://www.maine.gov/governor/baldacci/policy/energy.shtml – also contains useful information about state energy programs.

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