The town’s efforts to help residents heat their homes this winter will receive a $50,000 boost from Cumberland County and the American Rescue Plan Act.
The county government is using funds from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, to run the Keeping Cumberland County Warm Program.
The aid is not available to anyone who qualifies for General Assistance from the town or for the state-run Home Energy Assistance Program. Recipients must sign an affidavit to verify that they do not qualify for either alternative.
“So it’s really trying to target a different group of people that aren’t necessarily getting help because their income is above the limits” of those two programs, Town Administrator Kristi Eiane told the Select Board on Dec. 29.
Grant documents note that Maine depends on heating oil more than any other state in the country. More than 60% of homes rely on heating oil, in comparison to 4% of U.S. homes and 24% to 42% of homes elsewhere in New England.
“This makes Maine distinctly vulnerable to the increased prices and volatility the global fossil fuel market is now experiencing,” the documents state.
The Select Board voted 3-0 to participate in the program.
At least four programs now offer heating assistance to Harpswell residents in need, each with different guidelines. Residents with questions about heating aid may call the Harpswell Department of Recreation and Community Services at 207-833-5771 ext. 108.
The town-run Harpswell Heating Assistance Program offers up to 200 gallons of heating fuel, or the equivalent in electric or wood heat, per household, per season. The season runs from Oct. 15 to April 15.
The program is available to households that are not eligible for General Assistance and have incomes up to the “moderate” threshold set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or $56,200 for a two-person household.
Applications are available at harpswell.maine.gov and can be submitted online or by mail to Town of Harpswell, P.O. Box 39, Harpswell, ME 04079. Applications can also be taken by phone, at 207-833-5771 ext. 108; or in person at the Town Office.
The program shattered records for aid and donations in 2022, providing $60,973 in aid and collecting $30,270 in donations. The previous highs were $46,171 for aid, set in 2018; and $20,170 for donations, set in 2021. The program was established in 2008. Donations are accepted by mail, by phone, or in person.
The Keeping Cumberland County Warm Program will run until April 30. Households must call 207-833-5771 ext. 108 and make an appointment to apply in person at the Town Office. Household income must fall within program guidelines. For example, a family of two must have an income between $40,357 and $54,930. Photo ID and proof of income and residency are required.
General Assistance provides immediate aid to people in need. In addition to heating fuel, General Assistance can go toward rent and groceries. Applicants must call 207-833-5771 ext. 108 and schedule an appointment with the General Assistance administrator.
For the Home Energy Assistance Program, or HEAP, residents must call The Opportunity Alliance, of South Portland, at 877-429-6884. HEAP has another set of income guidelines. For example, a two-person household can earn up to $40,356 per year.