According to the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, heating oil prices hit an average of $3.98 a gallon this week, up two cents from last week, and 38 cents higher than last year at this time.
It has been a mild winter, which has been helpful, but many still need assistance. As with those who use it is startling to some to realize that people right here in town are so desperately in need.
June David-Fors is the director for the in Northborough, which provides a gateway for those in need of financial assistance. Working in tandem with the Southern Middlesex Opportunity Council, the department is the official application site for those in need of fuel assistance.
According to David-Fors, last year close to 200 people applied for help, and the office has already processed 30 this year.
"Especially after the holidays you start getting a lot of calls," said David-Fors. "People still do need help. People are unemployed. They have lost jobs and have been unemployed for extended periods of time. People who never thought they would have to use this are calling us. In some instances one person or both have lost their jobs, and it's really hard."
Those in Northborough who need help would call or visit the Department of Family and Youth Services at the Town Hall. It is part of a local net under the Federal Fuel Assistance Program, as well as the Southern Middlesex Opportunity Council (SMOC) located in Framingham.
The Patrick-Murray Administration recently announced an additional $21.8 million for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), increasing the maximum benefit to help low-income residents in Massachusetts heat their homes this winter. The additional funding, brings the total Massachusetts allocation to $99.5 million.
"Instead of people having to drive into Framingham," said David-Fors, "we can do it for them here. We don't make the decision, but we get the paperwork right over to them, and if there's an emergency situation we send it in as an emergency."
Based on a formula provided by the Fuel Assistance Program, qualified families must meet a certain poverty standard, and it is based not only on income, but the number of people in the home. If they are accepted, the payment is sent to the family's regular oil or gas company.
"We start getting a lot of calls especially after the holidays," said David-Fors. "I don't want to discourage people from applying, but the resident does have to gather a lot of information to do so."
If a resident does not qualify for federal fuel assistance, help is still available through a fund set up by the Northborough Rotary Club. Instituted in 2003, the Rotary Club used the money from an annual spelling bee to feed the emergency fund. Families are referred, also, through Family and Youth Services as well as the Northborough Food Pantry.
"It's always been a quiet kind of thing," said Nancy Berglund, Rotary club member. "The whole point of the emergency aspect is for those people who cannot be plugged into further services."
The fund is maintained by Northborough Oil, which also discounts the deliveries it provides.
According to the Patrick-Murray Administration, the Commonwealth is expected to receive an additional funding increase in the coming weeks that will bring the total Massachusetts allocation to $132.7 million. Given this expected increase, the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) has increased benefit levels; the maximum benefit level for the most vulnerable has increased from $675 for heating oil or other deliverable fuels to $1,025; and from $275 for utilities to $525.
"Heating assistance is crucial to low income families and seniors as they deal with rising energy costs and the rough weather that comes with every New England winter," said U.S. Senator Scott Brown. "I'm proud that the Massachusetts delegation and other allies in Congress banded together throughout 2011 to fight for LIHEAP funding, and I'll continue to support this critical program."