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Assistance is available to pay high energy bills

October 24, 2004|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

In Washington County, federal assistance for home heating bills flows through the Community Action Council in Hagerstown.

A person living alone in a household can earn a maximum of $1,164 gross per month to be eligible for a grant, according to Maryland's Office of Home Energy Programs.

A household of six people can earn a maximum of $3,151 per month. For each additional member of the household beyond six, add $398 to determine the funding cutoff.

The Community Action Council gave money to 2,000 applicants five years ago, said Deanie Wilburn, the agency's director of energy. With 1,700 applications already submitted as of last week, the number is expected to reach 3,000 this year, she said.

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She said applicants are never turned away if they qualify.

Last year, people who needed help with propane bills received the most money.

A person earning $0 to $374 per month received $510, Wilburn said.

For oil, kerosene or natural gas, a person in the same income bracket received $480.

Also in that income bracket, an applicant received $396 for electric service.

The program is geared to help people from Nov. 15 to March 30, which is considered the "crisis" season for heating bills, Wilburn said.

She said people can call the Community Action Council at 301-797-4161 for information on how to apply.

Allegheny Energy collects contributions from its customers to help pay for electric service.

Spokesman Allen Staggers said the company matches 50 cents for each dollar it collects.

Wilburn said Washington County received $7,000 from Allegheny's Community Energy Fund to distribute last year.

Allegheny Energy also will help customers find out about other assistance programs in their states, Staggers said. Customers may call the customer service center at 800-255-3443, he said.

The state of Maryland also offers programs for weatherization, including stripping, caulking and plastic window covering; utility service, to prevent low-income families from having their service shut off because of nonpayment; and electrical service, to help low-income families pay electric bills.

Applications are available at the Washington County Department of Social Services, which may be reached at 240-420-2100.

The Maryland Office of Home Energy Programs has more information at its Web site, which is www.dhr.state.md.us/meap/index.htm.

"The key is preparation," Columbia Gas spokesman Rob Boulware said.

He said a thermostat that can be set to automatically change the temperature depending on the time of day and whether someone is home is a good example of efficiency.

People worried about paying high winter bills should consider a budget plan to even out monthly payments, he said.

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