FITCHBURG — While temperatures have been warmer than expected this winter, Mayor Stephen DiNatale has not hesitated to help residents heat their homes.
Amidst crushing inflation and rising energy costs, DiNatale and Administrative Aide Joan David have established the Mayor’s Energy Fund to ease the financial burden for residents. The mayor said it was important to set up the financial safety net for residents given the often unpredictable nature of New England weather and in the event of unforeseen emergencies.
“This program was born out of the anticipated, extraordinarily significant increases in energy costs to heat people’s home’s this winter,” DiNatale said. “Knock on wood, the winter has been relatively mild, but it’s good to have this as a base because you just never know what might happen, weather or otherwise.”
“Heating and energy costs, even without it being exceptionally cold, are extraordinarily high. So, however much or little it might do, we’re doing this to help out the citizens of Fitchburg,” he said.
Eligibility for the program, which could contribute as much as $400 to a resident’s oil, gas or electric heating costs, is determined by income and other federal Department of Housing and Urban Development guidelines, according to David. Those that are interested can apply through an application that is available outside of DiNatale’s office at City Hall.
Through the application, residents provide the amount of their latest bill, whether through Unitil Corporation or another utility provider, as well as information on their income and a means to verify that income, such as a paystub or W-2 form. If approved, City Hall would send a check directly to the utility company to be disbursed to the applicant’s account within a two-week period.
David said a potential online application would be “something we could discuss in the future.”
DiNatale said work on the fund began late in 2022 ahead of what was projected to be a particularly harsh winter. He and David took inspiration from a similar program in Leominster and collaborated with local social service agencies such as United Way of North Central Massachusetts, Making Opportunity Count and others to build something that could “work for as many people as possible.”
Both thanked those local organizations for their aid and their “continued commitment” to Fitchburg residents.
“I reached out to some nonprofits in the community, United Way [of North Central Massachusetts], MOC, and said let’s get together and strategize on how best to meet what could be a significant problem for a lot of people,” he said. “We couldn’t be more thankful to them and what they’ve provided and continue to provide to us and the community.”
As of now, the program is funded solely by a $5,000 donation made by IC Federal Credit Union last December, a donation that was approved for use by City Council on Tuesday, Dec. 17. In the future, DiNatale and David said the fund would consist mostly of “public and private donations” from other local institutions, but that the city would also look for other opportunities to fundraise.
David also said the city applied for a HUD Community Development Block Grant but, if awarded, such funds would be unavailable until next winter.
Both DiNatalie and David stressed the importance of such a fund as many struggle to keep up, financially. David said even minimal financial relief could make a huge difference for some families, while DiNatale said the city would “do our best” to help those in need and urged residents to come his office and apply.
“It might not seem like a lot, but I think this fund could do a lot of good,” David said. “If we can help even just a little, pick up at least part of someone’s bill so they have a bit extra to spend on groceries or whatever else they might need, it could mean a world of difference for a lot of people.”
“We work for the people of Fitchburg, we’re here to help them however we can,” DiNatalie said. “So please, reach out, come to City Hall and, if we can, we’ll certainly do our best to help.”