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February 13, 2014

Help sought for families with depleted fed benefits

Hundreds of households have already exhausted all of their heating funds

(Continued)

Since November, CAI has received 4,792 applications for heating assistance and 3,396 applications have been deemed eligible to receive assistance. Some 1,053 households have already exhausted their total benefit for the year.

“In addition, 653 oil heat customers have less than $150 remaining in benefits, so unless they can supplement the remaining funds with at least $200, they cannot get another tank of oil. The minimum oil delivery is 100 gallons and at today’s cost of $3.53 per gallon, they would need approximately $350 or more to get a delivery,” Cuneo said.

Massachusetts was allocated $135.2 million in federal funds for this year’s program. The state is still waiting for $13.5 million from this year’s grant to be sent by Washington, but that money will be used for new eligible participants and cannot be used to supplement families who have no benefit remaining.

Among the families who have used up their benefits, around 275 of those are in Salisbury, Amesbury and Newburyport, according to Cuneo.

The CAI Heating Assistance program has received many calls from families who are worried that they will have no heat for the rest of the winter.

“The average family receives $205 to $950 in heating assistance through CAI depending on their income and heating source. Last year the average family received about $550 in assistance. This year’s average has dropped to about $385 per household, and with the cold winter we have experienced, the funds are exhausted very quickly,” Cuneo said.

Making the situation even more tenuous for these families is the severity of this winter, Cuneo said, adding that the number of home heating days will be greater than the winter before. When weather dips to about 20 degrees, most heating systems will remain active all day long. In warmer weather, between 30 and 40 degrees, units will cycle on and off, saving valuable fuel, Cuneo added.

“At the end of the day, the winter has been harsher,” Cuneo said.

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