FITCHBURG — A family of four that makes less than $87,294 in gross income will qualify for fuel assistance this winter according to the information presented at a home heating assistance forum on Nov. 1 at Great Wolf Lodge.
That was the main message shared with the nonprofits and community leaders who participated in the energy assistance forum sponsored by gas and electricity provider Unitil and co-hosted with United Way of North Central Massachusetts in partnership with Fitchburg-based Making Opportunity Count (MOC).
Speakers discussed the details of the heating assistance with over 50 representatives from various nonprofits who will use the information to help their clients reduce heating costs this winter.
“This meeting is so important because it reviews all the heating assistance programs available for the frontline agencies, so they can assist their clients,” said Unitil External Affairs Manager Alec O’Meara. “We encourage homeowners and renters to take proactive steps now to learn which programs they may qualify for, especially those on fixed income or tight budgets.”
MOC Quality Assurance Coordinator Edward Campbell said a family of four with a household income of $87,294 or less would qualify for the program. For a single person, the income figure is $45,392. The one-time benefit, depending on income and housing type, generally ranges from $120 to $600.
MOC aids in managing the Federal Fuel Assistance program for the region.
According to Campbell, homeowners and renters can apply for assistance beginning Nov. 1. Residents can learn more about qualification guidelines for fuel assistance by reaching out to MOC at (978) 342-4520.
Unitil Credit Supervisor Justin Stearns reviewed with attendees the utility company’s budget billing program, which makes monthly utility bills more affordable by leveling out higher seasonal energy bills, which are instead spread out throughout the year.
In addition, customers may qualify for a discount rate on natural gas or electricity, depending on household size and income. According to Stearns, the discount rate for electric customers is 34.5% while the natural gas discount stands at 25%. Unitil works with MOC to approve customers for the discount rate as well as other agencies that provide public benefits.
“In many cases, the actual discount which applies to 12 months of billing is often greater than the one-time Federal payment, so that is why I encourage households who qualify to apply for the benefit,” Stearns said.
Customers who qualify for the discount rate may also qualify for the Arrears Forgiveness Program. If a customer has an overdue balance of $300 and is 60 or more days past due for their gas and/or electric service, they may qualify to enter into the program. Once enrolled, if a customer commits to paying their current utility budgeted bills on time going forward, they may be eligible for up to $4,800 in relief per service, per year on their outstanding balances.
Separately, the Good Neighbor Energy Fund also provides an additional one-time payment for heating assistance as long as the household income is between 60% and 80% of the state median. According to Stearns, the income limits are $45,393 to $60,523 for an individual and $87,295 to $116,392 for a family of four.
Unitil’s Derek Kimball reviewed energy saving programs that included Mass Save’s energy efficiency programs, including income-based programs that provide no-cost or discounted energy efficiency services.
The Enhanced Residential Program, for those with a household of four members and incomes between $87,295 and $116,392, offers no-cost insulation upgrades and rebates on related projects.
The Income Eligible Program is for a household with four members whose income is less than $87,294 or for a single person less than $45,392. Applicants may qualify for no-cost insulation, replacement of heating systems, air-sealing upgrades and new home appliances such as clothes washers, refrigerators, freezers, heating systems, dehumidifiers and window AC units.
Kimball encouraged residents to contact MassSave at 1-866-537–SAVE (7267) to complete the easy, no cost income verification by phone and to learn more about the Enhanced Residential Program. For more information on qualifying for the Income Eligible Program, homeowners and renters should contact MOC in Fitchburg.
Future utilities EV infrastructure upgrades
The meeting ended with a brief presentation on how utilities plan to upgrade the electrical infrastructure to meet the future energy demand for electric vehicles and heating systems.
Every public utility in the state is required to develop and implement an Electric Sector Modernization Plan (ESMP), which is a comprehensive plan designed to ensure the electric system is capable of supporting the state’s climate goals. More information on Unitil’s current draft plan as well as opportunities to provide feedback can be found at unitil.com/esmp.
(Courtesy Unitil Corporation)