(Host) It’s only September, but many people are already worried about how they’ll heat their home this winter.
The need for fuel assistance is expected to skyrocket, and community assistance groups are hoping businesses and individuals will be even more generous in their support.
VPR’s Nina Keck has more.
(Keck) Richard Moffi heads Vermont’s Seasonal Fuel Assistance Program.
(Moffi) “Our phones have been ringing constantly since early June.”
(Keck) He says applications are up 25% over last year with many more requests from people new to the program. But despite rising demand, Moffi says there’s less state and federal money available to help.
(Moffi) "Last year the fuel assistance program had $23 million in funds to provide benefits for low income Vermonters. This year we only have $14 million."
(Keck) Moffi says efforts like the Shareheat program run by Central Vermont Public Service – the state’s largest utility -is especially important. CVPS began raising money for the program five months early. With the help of a number of leading businesses they’ve raised $187,000 that will be used to match customer contributions dollar for dollar. CVPS spokesman Steve Costello says it’s a record amount, but still may not meet demand.
(Costello) "I’ve been at CVPS for 12 years and worked on this program the entire time and we’ve never seen anything like this. In talking to the community action agencies, they’re really fearful of what this winter is going to be like. And it’s very clear that even moderate income people who in the past never would have dreamed of needing heating assistance are already very fearful of what this winter is going to bring."
(Keck) Shareheat is an emergency fuel fund of last resort. It’s used primarily when low-income Vermonters are ineligible for other programs, have used up their eligibility, or never before applied for assistance.
(Costello) "Contributions actually go right back to the areas from which the donations come. So if you donate from Franklin County, your donation will actually benefit someone in Franklin County. We’ll match the contributions and then send both the contribution and the matching dollar to the local community action agency that serves your area."
(Keck) Although CVPS has raised a considerable amount in corporate matching funds, Costello says they hope the general public will now come through as well.
For VPR News, I’m Nina Keck in Rutland.