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Heating assistance available

December 21, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Although temperatures dipped into the single digits in Washington County on Monday morning, the local office that handles home-heating assistance requests was not flooded with requests for help, the office's top official said.

There was no noticeable increase in requests Monday, although there is a general trend this year that will push the number of households receiving assistance beyond last year's numbers, said David Jordan, Washington County Community Action Council executive director.

The Maryland Energy Assistance Program and the Electric Universal Service Program are the two main government programs that provide money to help low-income residents pay for heating bills. Jordan's office administers the programs for county residents.

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The Maryland Energy Assistance Program uses federal money. The Electric Universal Service Program uses money charged to electric customers in a fee in their regular bills; in 2003, that fund collected about $34 million.

Jordan said his office distributes money to residents who apply and qualify for the money. The money can be used to pay for electric, natural gas, heating oil, propane and wood.

Another state program - the Weatherization Assistance Program - makes money available for qualified residents who need help making their homes more heat-efficient.

Jordan said state officials have said there's no shortage of cash to provide assistance this year, but the number of people who receive money is much smaller than the number of people who would qualify to receive it.

Jordan said that through U.S. Census figures, he estimates about 10,000 households in Washington County would qualify to receive payments. Last year, there were payments to only about one-third of those who could qualify, he said.

Jordan said there might be many people asking the question, "Do I pay the gas bill or do I put food on the table?" He said the programs his office administers should help make the answer to that question easier.

If you are having trouble paying your heating bills, or have had your heat turned off, the Washington County Community Action Council administers programs that might be able to help you, Jordan said.

The CAC can be reached at 301-797-4161.

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