Operation Fuel has extended emergency energy assistance to about 400 low-income families since it began its summer assistance program less than a week ago.
While the state’s annual moratorium on utility service termination prevents many families from seeing their energy shut off during the winter months, that prohibition does not apply after May.
Although much of Operation Fuel’s efforts are devoted to helping families keep their heat on in the wintertime, the statewide nonprofit also extends limited benefits in the summer months.
Patricia Wrice, the group’s executive director, said $500,000 has been set aside to aid families during the hottest time of the year. But it isn’t easy raising money to support the program during the summer, she said, especially with the perception that the urgency fades as the snow melts.
“It is a struggle to raise money in the summer because we are a cold weather state and people think the need is only in the winter,” she said, adding that the need is also present in the summer. “In the first three days we’ve already gone through 15 percent of our [summer] funding.”
Wrice said it is more than an inconvenience when a household has its power switched off. Without electricity, families can’t refrigerate their food or keep medications at the appropriate temperatures, she said.
Wrice said her organization is hoping to educate people about the danger extreme heat poses to families, and especially children, the elderly, and people with certain chronic illnesses.
“It’s a struggle all year round for these people living close to the edge,” she said.
The energy assistance program will run from August until the end of October, or whenever the funds are exhausted. Households that qualify are eligible for a grant of as much as $500. Wrice said in many cases the grant is enough to prevent a household from seeing its utilities shut off. Families that received assistance under Operation Fuel’s program during the past winter are not eligible for summer assistance.
On Nov. 1 the state’s winter utility termination moratorium begins again.
The “no-freeze” policy prohibits electric and gas utility companies from switching off service to low-income families during the winter months. The policy, which has been on the books in some form since 1979, protects the service of “hardship” cases. That might include families below a certain percentage of the federal poverty level, or families relying on social security or unemployment benefits.
Wrice praised the policy. Before it was enacted there were no protections for low-income families, who sometimes found themselves without heat during the winter, she said. But it does not help all households. She said Operation Fuel directs much of its winter resources to families who heat their homes with oil.
“You can’t force an oil dealer to deliver oil to someone who doesn’t have any money,” she said.
People seeking to donate to Operation Fuel can visit the group’s website at www.operationfuel.org.