Heating assistance available for Rhode Islanders this winter

Heating assistance available for Rhode Islanders this winter

PROVIDENCE – The need for occasional help to pay bills isn’t limited to people of a certain age or to one community more than another, says Sandi Connors, spokeswoman for United Way of Rhode Island, who’s encouraging anyone who thinks they may qualify for heating assistance this year to reach out.

United Way of Rhode Island last week announced that the 2019-2020 Rhode Island Good Neighbor Energy Fund is now open to eligible Rhode Islanders experiencing financial difficulty and in need of assistance with their heating bills.

“It’s critical for people to have utilities be on,” Connors told The Valley Breeze. “It really impacts the whole household’s ability to thrive.”

The fund, administered by United Way, is sponsored by Block Island Utility District, National Grid, Ocean State Power, Pascoag Utility District, Petro Home Services and RISEC LP.Since 1986 it has raised more than $14.6 million and provided heating assistance to 46,000 households in R.I. Across the state last year, 509 households and 1,260 people received help, Connors said.

Individuals and families in need of energy assistance are encouraged to visit their local Community Action Program agency, which receives funding from United Way and pays utility bills directly. Renters and homeowners are eligible.

“It’s a good program for people who are struggling to get a bill paid and need to make sure to continue heating their home,” Connors said.

Household eligibility is based on total household income not exceeding 300 percent of the federal poverty level, states a press release. For example, a household of four is eligible if its annual income does not exceed $77,250 while a household of six cannot exceed $103,770. Grants to households are determined by fuel type and need and will not exceed $650 per heating season.

Cortney Nicolato, president and CEO of United Way of Rhode Island, said that Rhode Islanders should dial 2-1-1, United Way’s 24-hour call center, if they’re looking for more information about the fund or need help identifying their local CAP agency.

“With temperatures starting to drop, we want those in financial difficulty to know that the Good Neighbor Energy Fund is a great community resource and we’re here to help,” she said in a statement.

“If people even wonder if they’re eligible, they should call 2-1-1,” Connors said. “It can be very difficult to ask for help, particularly if you’ve never had to ask for help in the past. … Just call. That’s what the money is here for.”

Local CAP agencies, according to information provided by United Way, are as follows:

• Community Care Alliance, 55 Main St. in Woonsocket, serves residents in Woonsocket and North Smithfield. Call 401-235-7000.

• Blackstone Valley CAP, 32 Goff Ave. in Pawtucket, serves residents in Cumberland, Lincoln, Pawtucket, and Central Falls. Call 401-723-4520.

• Tri-Town Community Action, 1126 Hartford Ave. in Johnston, serves residents in North Providence, North Smithfield, Smithfield, Glocester, Johnston, and Burrillville. Call 401-351-2750.

• Comprehensive CAP, 311 Doric Ave. in Cranston, serves residents in Foster, Scituate, Coventry, and Cranston. Call 401-467-9610.

Emidio Rosa, supervisor for the family support center at Community Care Alliance, told The Breeze that the agency gave out 69 Good Neighbor Energy Fund grants last year.

“The program is good (for) the community because it helps people in crisis,” he said.

Tri-County gave out 200 grants last year, Connors said. She didn’t have numbers for Blackstone Valley CAP.

The fund is earmarked for families and individuals who are in a one-time or temporary crisis, Connors said.

Someone who can’t pay their utility bills because of a recent job loss or a healthcare issue may be eligible to receive assistance. Those who need assistance can be any age from any community, she said. Connors said the 2-1-1 call center receives about 180,000 calls a year from Rhode Islanders looking for help. Families are making difficult decisions between paying for food, utilities, and medications, she said. “It’s definitely a problem in Rhode Island,” she said.

While unemployment rates are lower, salaries are not as high as before the 2008 recession, and many families are spending more than 30 percent of their salary on housing, Connors said. “When that happens it impacts the ability to pay other basic supports,” she said, and leaves less money for food, medications, and transportation. Because of a moratorium in the state that says energy companies can’t shut off heat until May in households that haven’t paid, Connors said they’ll see a surge in the spring of people who can’t keep up with their bills.

Anyone can donate to the Good Neighbor Energy Fund’s Warm Thy Neighbor fundraising campaign via the yellow donation envelopes that are enclosed with energy bills through the end of February.

People can also text WARM to 91999 on their mobile phone, send a check payable to “Good Neighbor Energy Fund” to Rhode Island Good Neighbor Energy Fund, c/o United Way of Rhode Island, 50 Valley St., Providence, RI 02909-2459 or visit www.rhodeislandgoodneighbor.org .

“The generosity of Rhode Islanders to this program has been very consistent,” Connors said. “I think New Englanders understand what it is to be cold and understand what it is to be in a temporary crisis. … People want to help their neighbors in Rhode Island.”