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Energy assistance available

January 20, 2001

Energy assistance available



By ANDREA BROWN-HURLEY / Staff Writer


Energy assistance programs and utility budget plans can help qualified people save money on home heating costs.

Social Services agencies in Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia offer financial assistance for energy costs to people who meet income guidelines.

The Maryland Energy Assistance Program provides one-year grants to eligible households. The grant is sent directly to the fuel vendor to assist low- to moderate-income families with heating costs.

Approximately 65,000 Maryland households received about $16 million in MEAP funds for their heating bills in 1999, according to the Maryland Office of People's Counsel.

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Local agencies such as the Community Action Council in Hagerstown and the Interfaith Service Coalition in Hancock can help with MEAP referrals.

The Electric Universal Services Program, which started last July, helps eligible Maryland electric customers afford their bills by providing grants for current electric service, assistance in paying overdue bills and weatherization services.

The Community Action Council provides the bill assistance and overdue payment parts of the program to eligible Washington County residents.

The eligibility standard for MEAP and electric universal service benefits is an income at or below 150 percent of the federal property level, according to the People's Counsel.

At this time, there is no statewide statutory universal service fund for natural gas heating customers.

Columbia Gas of Maryland anticipated price increases and began a consumer education campaign this summer, company spokesman Rob Boulware said. The company urged many of its customers to sign up for its budget plan, in which gas costs are spread out throughout the year to help relieve high winter bills.

Low-income customers were offered weatherization starter kits and informed about available state and local funding to help with energy costs, Boulware said.

Thompson Gas Co. President Randy Thompson said his company also warned customers of impending high propane prices and gave many residential heating clients the chance to "pre-buy" propane for a set cost of about $70 a month throughout the year.

Allegheny Power's Average Payment Plan divides customers' electric bills into 12 monthly payments that help ease higher costs during winter and summer peak heating and cooling periods, according to the utility's Web site.

Under the plan, customers' electric usage is averaged from the previous year and the monthly payment is calculated as 1/12 of that annual amount, the Web site states.

Call your energy supplier to see if you qualify for a budget program.

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