January 10

Augusta area heating assistance struggling to meet rising demand

A group of local leaders who meet monthly to talk about how to help low-income residents stay warm say the last few weeks have been made difficult as fuel and money is delayed.

By Keith Edwards kedwards@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — The double whammy of frigid temperatures and ice-covered driveways and roads is straining the ability of those who deliver fuel and those who provide money for to help pay for it to keep up with demand.

click image to enlarge

HOT AND COLD: Angie Anderson, right, and her partner, Dan Chapman, center, talk with customer Scott Stairs of Randolph about delivering heating oil to his home Thursday at Chapman Oil in Gardiner. The heating oil business the couple operates receives several requests a day to drop only minimum amounts of oil to keep houses from freezing. Heating oil on Thursday cost $3.79 and $3.89 a gallon.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

click image to enlarge

HOT AND COLD: Angie Anderson collects her thoughts Thursday while listening to a customer request heating oil at Chapman Oil Company in Gardiner. The firm that delivers home heating fuel receives several requests a day to drop only a minimal amount of oil to keep houses from freezing. Heating oil on Thursday cost $3.79 and $3.89 a gallon.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

Fuel deliveries can take a week or more because companies have been backed up with calls since an ice storm knocked out power and left central Maine roads and driveways covered in treacherous ice.

Friday, a group of Augusta area leaders who meet regularly to talk about how to meet the heating needs of low-income residents, focused on the stress the last few weeks have caused area residents and the companies and agencies who serve them.

“The dealers have all been backed up since the ice storm,” Jim Randall, who works for Augusta Fuel Company and is on the board of directors of the Kennebec Valley United Way, told the gathering. “There’s no time to catch up. You can only do so many deliveries a day. And driveway and road conditions are so bad it slows drivers down. Some driveways are impassable.”

The lack of prompt fuel deliveries makes it hard for agencies such as Kennebec Valley Community Action Program to get emergency fuel delivered to people whose oil tanks are about to run out. The agency distributes federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program funds in Kennebec, Somerset, Sagadahoc and Lincoln counties.

Kelly LaChance, who oversees the agency’s distribution of fuel assistance money, said Friday federal rules require emergency fuel money to be delivered to eligible clients within 24 hours. But with the demand for fuel deliveries so high, she hasn’t been able to find companies that can meet that requirement. She said some are backed up two weeks, and many aren’t taking new customers because they’re so busy keeping up with deliveries to established customers.

“We’re getting between 15 and 40 (requests for emergency fuel money) a day, we just can’t keep up,” LaChance said. “And I can’t get fuel companies to deliver within 24 hours.”

LaChance said people have to be patient, though she understands it is difficult for people to be patient if they’re cold or about to run out of fuel.

She said people can buy kerosene at gas station to keep a furnace going, filling five gallon containers to keep the heat running until an emergency delivery can be made.

She said that LIHEAP money, both the standard, one-time regular assistance of just more than $500, and one-time emergency money of up to $400, are meant to be supplemental. Residents must find other means to pay for the bulk of their heating needs.

Donna Staples, General Assistance coordinator for the town of Winthrop, said people should start saving to buy heating fuel in the summer, and take as much responsibility for themselves as possible.

Rob Gordon, executive director of the Kennebec Valley United Way, said the extreme and repeated cold temperatures are creating stress, both in low income people in need of help to stay warm, and in those trying to provide that help.

“The holiday period was very stressful,” Gordon said. “Financial resources, vendor resources, are stretched.”

He praised the city of Augusta for opening an emergency shelter at the Augusta Civic Center during the ice storm, when power was lost in much of the city, including at the Bread of Life shelter.

The Emergency Heating Assistance Group includes about a dozen people representing nonprofits, municipalities, social service agencies, an oil dealer and others. The group meets monthly throughout the heating season to compare notes and share ideas about how to make sure low-income residents can heat their homes.

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