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No Fuel Assistance Until Gov't Shutdown Resolved

NSCAP has had to lay off workers and suspend its fuel assistance program, which serves thousands of North Shore residents, until an agreement is reached on federal spending.

North Shore Community Action Programs is based in Peabody. Credit: Courtesy
North Shore Community Action Programs is based in Peabody. Credit: Courtesy
The government shutdown, or showdown as it may be, may leave thousands of residents out in the cold this winter if the impasse between lawmakers extends to Nov. 1.

That's the deadline for registering for fuel assistance, officially known as the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, in Massachusetts. Typically, agencies contracted with administering the program locally use October to enroll new clients and process renewals.

North Shore Community Action Programs, based in Peabody, administers the federally-funded program for about 4,000 residents in Peabody, Salem, Beverly, Danvers, Middleton, Topsfield and Marblehead each year.

But according to NSCAP, the shutdown has forced the nonprofit agency to lay off its six fuel assistance program workers -- they are paid via federal funds -- and essentially sit in limbo until federal money is available again. The shutdown began Oct. 1.

"Due to the government shutdown, NSCAP has been forced to close the Fuel Assistance department. NSCAP will remain open. We will accept applications but cannot process them. As soon as a Continuing Resolution or budget is passed, NSCAP will re-open Fuel Assistance," says a notice from NSCAP.

NSCAP Executive Director Laura MacNeil, who attended the Shut Down the Shut Down Rally Tuesday in Boston, says that after looking at the figures, it was quickly apparent the agency couldn't operate the program without federal money, reports the Boston Globe.

“The first cold day, our waiting room is [usually] packed with people who need help,” MacNeil said according to the Globe.

She notes the shutdown is also affecting other important programs for low-income families, such as Head Start and WIC (Women, Infants and Children), and may hurt housing programs as well if the impasse continues into November.

On top of that, heating costs are expected to rise this winter as well due to increased fuel prices forecasted for both natural gas and electric customers.

According to a recent report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, natural gas heating bills are expected to increase by 18 percent for customers in the Northeast while those who heat with electricity are likely to see 4 percent higher costs.

Those who heat with oil are still expected to pay more overall for the winter, but those bills are forecast to see a slight decrease. But beyond all that, temperatures are expected to be 3 percent colder this winter.

NSCAP is not alone it shuttering its fuel assistance program -- many of the 20 agencies in Massachusetts have already done so or are planning on it.

So who's eligible for fuel assistance?

Despite what you might think, you don't have to be "poor" to receive fuel assistance in the Bay State.

Eligibility is based on the gross annual income of all household members over 18 and the total number of household members. There are income limits. If your total household income is less than or equal to 60 percent of the state median income for your household size, you're eligible.

Here's the breakdown per household size from state figures for the 2013-2014 heating season:

  1. $32,065
  2. $41,932
  3. $51,798
  4. $61,664
  5. $71,530

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