REGION — As winter approaches and energy companies such as Eversource and National Grid predict increases in their customers’ energy bills, two local nonprofits are preparing for thousands of residents who need their fuel assistance programs.
Energy director for Pioneer Valley Community Action, Peter Wingate, said he expects this year’s fuel costs, particularly electricity, to hit “records”. The organization helps around 8,000 residents of Hampshire and Franklin counties with their heating costs.
“It would be an understatement to say that I am very worried about this winter,” Wingate wrote in an email. “Low-income households desperately need help. Even with potential increases in federal funding, it will be a very difficult winter for many people.
Wingate’s comments come as the Valley Opportunity Council, which has provided fuel assistance opportunities to Hampden County residents for years, recently opened a fuel assistance office on State Street in Springfield, cutting the ribbon on the site during a ceremony on October 24.
Both organizations offer heating assistance from November to April. Local nonprofit organizations are urging residents of low-income households to apply for their fuel assistance programs.
According to Wingate, the majority of people who come to his organization for help use heating oil and propane, fuels whose costs are difficult to predict. He anticipates that his organization will have a budget of $6 million for applicants for heating assistance, excluding any additional federal funding.
“We’ve actually heard from kerosene heaters, which are mostly people who live in mobile homes and use an outdoor tank, that there’s almost no kerosene on the market,” said said Wingate. “Some of these people will have to use some sort of winter blend of regular oil, which will also cost more per gallon.”
New applicants can apply for fuel assistance on the nonprofit’s website and are supported through April 30.
Meanwhile, at the groundbreaking ceremony in Springfield, Valley Opportunity Council executive director Stephen Huntley said the nonprofit plans to open another location on Main Street within months. to come, with each location employing seven people to handle all resident enquiries.
In addition to the new Springfield site, Valley Opportunity Council has offices in Holyoke, Chicopee and Westfield, and provides financial assistance to 12,000 households annually.
“These remote sites are specifically designed to accommodate customers and process their inquiries at our Holyoke site,” said Valley Opportunity Council executive director Stephen Huntley. “We can accept more requests than we can handle in this space.”
To be eligible for fuel assistance from the Valley Opportunity Council, all residents must reside in Hampden County, must pay 30% of their income for rent, and must not live in public housing.
Residents’ household income cannot exceed 60% of the state’s estimated median income, which is $42,411 for an individual or $81,561 for a four-person household, according to Housing and Community Development.
West Springfield resident Kim Seabck, who visited the State Street office, said Valley Opportunity Council fuel assistance helped her in ways that are hard to put into words.
“I live with my mother, who is elderly. We live off his social security and my social security. If I hadn’t had this wonderful opportunity, I would probably owe my power company thousands of dollars,” she said.