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With rising heating cost, more people are expected to ask for assistance with bills this winter

heating costs
Posted at 10:20 AM, Dec 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-06 13:24:30-05

BIDDEFORD, Maine — Maine is a traditional kind of place, as many things work the way they always have for decades.

One example of this is the traditional willingness of Mainers to help their neighbors ahead of harsher days.

Members of the local rotary chapter in Biddeford are making window inserts for their low-income neighbors. The inserts are simple constructs of wood and plastic that help keep drafts from old windows out so that those inside can save on heat.

"There really has been a need, that's been really apparent," said Phoebe Little, the leader of the project, "I was surprised at how many people were just excited for anything that was like going to help them save some money and help keep their rooms a little bit warmer."

This kind of pitching in is high in demand, especially this upcoming winter season.

Nikki Williams from Maine’s 211 says it’s already a struggle for many to afford to keep their homes warm. However, the pandemic is driving up prices all over the country.

"We're getting those calls from people who are in that situation: 'Where am I going to pay for food to put on the table or my rent, my medicine, or am I going to pay to heat my home?'" said Williams.

The US Energy Information Administration released an outlook ahead of winter, saying that 2021-22 energy prices are at multiyear highs, and disrupted pandemic supply and demand can be blamed.

People who use gas for heat will see an average 30% rise in prices and an average increase of 40% for electricity. However, heating oil will see the biggest increase, increasing on average 43% and 59% if this winter turns out to be colder.

With a large number of older homes in the state, oil is the traditional source of heat for most people in Maine, making it the most heating oil-dependent state in the nation. On average, Mainers will be paying $300 more per full tank, and typically several tanks are needed throughout the winter.

"We have seen a real uptick in the number of new families or individuals who've been calling this year," said Michele Prince of the Kennebec Valley Community Action Project (KVCAP).

KVCAP is one of the many organizations in the state that connect people with heating help, and there is plenty of it. Along with LIHEAP, there’s money in the Keep Maine Warn fund that’s built with donations, and the governor also announced an additional $30 million in federal dollars to help with heating needs.

"Sometimes when you're in this business, sometimes it feels like we have some tools in our toolbox that we can help, but we can't always fix everything. that's all, that's a heavy burden to go home with," said Prince.

Another tradition that has stayed true in the state of Maine is not wanting to burden others. With all the assistance available, only 20-25% of people who are eligible for heating assistance actually pick up the phone and ask for help.

"There's a lot of stigma around asking for help. I know it's especially strong in Maine where we like to take care of our own. We like to do things on our own, so when someone is in a situation where they need, it can be really hard to ask," said Williams.

With current inflation making life, in general, more expensive, people across the country who have never have had to ask for help may need to do so this winter. Those on the other end of the phone hope they choose to call.

"Every year, I get a handful of calls from people who say that they received help in the past and that they're now in a position where they can help someone," said Williams.

Even in a non-traditional time, nonprofits and neighbors alike are ready to keep up the custom of looking out for one another, just like it's always been.