Community Action anticipates ‘need will be high’ for fuel assistance in Pioneer Valley this year

Clare Higgins, executive director of Community Action Pioneer Valley, says she anticipates “the need will be high” for fuel assistance this year.

Clare Higgins, executive director of Community Action Pioneer Valley, says she anticipates “the need will be high” for fuel assistance this year. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Ashley Drillen, right, an applications and data management coordinator in the fuel assistance department at Community Action Pioneer Valley, trains Sienna Jessurun in processing emergency applications in January. With temperatures beginning to drop, state and local agencies are encouraging eligible residents to apply for fuel assistance through the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

Ashley Drillen, right, an applications and data management coordinator in the fuel assistance department at Community Action Pioneer Valley, trains Sienna Jessurun in processing emergency applications in January. With temperatures beginning to drop, state and local agencies are encouraging eligible residents to apply for fuel assistance through the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program. STAFF FILE PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

By MARY BYRNE

Staff Writer

Published: 11-06-2023 4:49 PM

With temperatures beginning to drop, state and local agencies are encouraging eligible residents to apply for fuel assistance through the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

LIHEAP, offered locally through Community Action Pioneer Valley, is a free service that helps pay a portion of winter heating costs for income-eligible households. To qualify, a person must be a renter or homeowner in Franklin County and meet certain income guidelines. At least one person in the household must be a U.S. citizen, a legal resident or a person with documented immigration status.

“Oil prices have the prospect of going up, so I think the need will be high,” said Community Action Pioneer Valley Executive Director Clare Higgins. “We’re never able to meet everybody’s fuel needs, so we can usually do maybe a third of the cost, depending. We always encourage people to apply, but to the best of their ability, plan a little bit ahead, which most of our clients know that or do that.”

Last year, the nonprofit received close to 9,000 applications from residents of Franklin and Hampshire counties. Community Action was able to provide some level of assistance to about 8,000 applicants. Higgins expects a similar demand this year.

Higgins noted that the application can now be filled out online at communityaction.us/program/fuel-assistance, though applicants are still welcome to visit Community Action’s offices in person at 377 Main St. in Greenfield. Applications can take up to eight weeks to process.

Community Action Pioneer Valley serves as the local agency connecting residents with LIHEAP benefits. The statewide, federally funded service offers fuel assistance from Nov. 1 to April 30.

“The Massachusetts Home Energy Assistance Program is free because no resident should have to worry about heating their home during the wintertime,” Ed Augustus Jr., secretary of the Massachusetts Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities, said in a statement. “High fuel costs can have a devastating effect on household budgets and can even endanger Massachusetts’ most vulnerable residents. We encourage anyone who needs heating assistance to explore their eligibility by applying online or visiting the nearest administering agency.”

Higgins added that applying for fuel assistance also acts as a gateway to other services the agency can provide, including weatherization.

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“There are a lot of old homes in our region,” Higgins said. “If you need some weatherization done, or heating system services, we can help with that.”

Reporter Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne.